Terraform Earth

Ridesharing for freight/packages

I was listening to a podcast about an Open Source group that is trying to build free services for improving the connectivity within cities at little or no cost. So I’ve posted a comment to the DIYCity.org site, and I thought I would copy that post here.

In this time of tightening belts, offering each other services outside of the normal range of commerce can allow individuals and small groups to prosper while spending less. So what if the ridesharing goes beyond people only?

I imagine needing to get a book/lamp/banner to a friend/colleague some distance away, but preferring to use something more appropriate/locally efficient/cheaper than UPS/FedEx/Post Office. Maybe I could look up a driver going to that location, and offer some gas money/bartered goods/bartered services for taking my object to its destination.

Apparently, a delivery ridesharing scheme already works amongst some grocery vendors, saving delivery costs when Brand A bread is going to the same place as Brand B coffee. As with that case, ridesharing for packages might require some small groups that limit membership so they can better collaborate and coordinate amongst themselves. But I expect the majority of traffic would come from one-by-one arrangements.

Ridesharing for stuff introduces new efficiencies:
– less delivery trucks are needed, reducing traffic and carbon footprint
– trade that would go to national/multinational corporations (UPS/FedEx) stays local
– this would add a neighborly networking social benefit that the standard delivery services don’t offer
– with a reduced cost barrier to the movement of goods, exchanges can happen that might not have otherwise, improving a city’s efficiency
– drivers can feel better about their personal carbon footprint
– this may be the first way to offer deliveries via electric or hybrid vehicles
– during disasters or movement restrictions from epidemics, this could offer additional robustness to a system for moving goods by remaining more localized

This notion has been nagging at me for a while. Driving a vehicle that doesn’t change cargo capacity to fit my needs of the moment had always seemed inefficient. This notion is a step towards an ideal efficiency, made more possible with the increase mobile connectivity and location tracking of today’s gadgets.

Of course, there would be some trust issues. These might be partially overcome by:
– establishing a reputation system like eBay’s
– posting the pickup and delivery to Twitter (a kind of tracking)
– posting camera phone pics of the exchanges to Flickr (a kind of documentation/advertising)
– keeping the typical value of the objects pretty low (implying less direct competition with the bog corporate services)

I would welcome suggestions, proofs of concept, or criticisms. I might include such a system in a story I’ve been working on, so I would prefer to make adjustments if the notion is fatally flawed.