The DEMO conference is filled with innovative, socially conscious, and inspiring products and companies. It’s also filled with quirky ideas that make you scratch your head and say… really?
Enter Avego, a new product by Mapflow, a Dublin and Palo Alto-based location intelligent solutions company. Mapflow’s Avego is a mobile phone-based service that allows you to save gas and time by using the empty seats of your car as public transportation. The Avego application, available for the iPhone, “automatically apportions the cost of the commute, providing a key financial incentive to commuters frustrated by high gasoline prices.”
According to Avego, the problem is that most people are far away from easy public transportation locations near their homes and workplaces. Because it can be a hassle and time-drainer to use the public transportation systems of most major cities, Avego connects you to willing Avego members who have similar routes and, using GPS and a secure PIN system, calculates and manages the entire transaction.
Sounds a lot like a taxi service, right? At least they admit it in the YouTube introduction that greets you on their homepage.
Avego lays out some great arguments for using their product, including:
-85% of cars travel with just one driver in a five seat car. That’s simply an inefficient use of our resources
-It saves gas and reduces the cost of rides
-No more public transportation-related stress
-Your commute becomes faster
-You make money by splitting the cost of the ride
These are all great reasons, and the environment angle is especially pleasing to hear, but in the end, the success of a product is entirely dependent on whether people buy into the product.
So answer this simple question: Would you take the time and risk to drive strangers around to work?
Most of us are comfortable in our own cars and can handle the commute, even if we do not like it. Many more of us have figured out routes that get us to work and back. One of the most difficult barriers startups face is changing people’s current habits. Avego is asking people to do that in a BIG way.
Would you drive strangers to work everyday? Would you wait around for a stranger that was running late? Would you be willing to drive an extra 15, 20, or 30 minutes to drop off these people? Can you handle possibly annoying commuters? Are you willing to figure out where everyone lives to pick them up?
Are you willing to become a glorified taxi service?
Not only does Avego face a huge chicken and egg issue (it can’t be effective without having critical mass, but people won’t join without critical mass), but it faces grave safety issues. Say that Avego begins to gain traction, but suddenly all of the cable channels pick up a story about how an Avego driver kidnapped a passenger. Do you really think Avego could survive that?
With cab drivers, you have a great deal of checks and balances against that type of situation. They are certified professionals with authorities to check in often. Even then, though, it happens. And the drivers are not out of danger’s way either. Avego will always have less preventative measures than a taxi cab company, making it a greater risk.
Avego is replacing one headache with another. Avego sounds great in theory, but the logistics, risks, and commitment are simply too much for the average person. It requires you to place too much trust in total strangers and assumes that people are willing to keep this headache in exchange for a minor amount of cash. I’m sorry, but I cannot envision people changing their habits for Avego.
Avego may become a more popular service with public transportation-minded European commuters, but I have serious doubts about its feasibility in the U.S.
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