A real-time, cab-sharing system called Weeels promises to save New Yorkers money, time, space - and perhaps meet a soul mate as well.
When a user enters a destination, the app matches the request with others who are nearby hoping to travel in the same direction. If it doesn't find a match nearby, the app offers the option of either ordering a cab immediately or waiting for other people in the area who want to go in the same direction.
"When people ride around, there are all these extra seats in cabs," said David Mahfouda, 28, founder of Weeels, who came up with the idea while he was riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 2006. "What Weeels is trying to do is take advantage of all those extra seats and parcel them out to people that need rides."
Someone who needs to go from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to JFK airport, for example, can expect to pay the average fare of $38. Splitting the ride with two other two fellow Weeels users, Mahfouda said, costs only $15 each - 40% of the full fare. And Weeels gets a $7 fee.
Weeels doesn't only reduce the cost of the ride and its carbon footprint. It might help making new friends. For those who have security concerns, user profiles let potential partners screen each other and gives them a chance to rate their experience afterwards.
"Nobody who understands the value of sharing a cab should be deterred by the prospect of riding in a car with a stranger," said Weeels chief strategy officer Alex Pasternack, 27, who met Mahfouda in college at Harvard. "We do it already on subway trains, buses, and even elevators."
The application launched at the beginning of this past summer and has more than 2,500 subscribers. So far, however, it has lacked critical mass: For the service to work optimally, enough people have to start using it all at once. That's why Mahfouda and Pasternack are striking agreements with companies and educational institutions including the e-commerce enterprise Etsy, Vice Magazine, and New York University to have their employees and students try Weeels.
"It's a car-sharing application, but it also functions as a system that companies and organizations can eventually use as a way of organizing people who are already part of that group to share rides better, " Pasternack said.
Of course, there are other car-sharing apps available, including Fare Share and Cabcorner which are also tackling the issue of making transportation smarter in cities like New York.
Unlike the others, however, Weeels has a button that allows booking a pre-negotiated cab ride at the best available rate in case there are no people in a car who are going in the desired direction and who are willing to split the fare.
Whether New Yorkers will latch on to Weeels or any of the competing systems remains to be seen. In any event, fewer cars will be driving around half-empty.
"It's such a waste. It's like buying eight slices of pizza and throwing away seven," Mahfouda said. "We need to increase the efficiency of road transit."
Weeels is currently a free app for the iPhone in the App Store, and is also available on any web-enabled phone at m.weeels.org
Interested in having your institution or apartment building use Weeels? Have you tried it and have ideas on how to improve the system? Check out www.weeels.org