Live Earth Concert Could Fuel Ridesharing Startup

Tomorrow marks the debut of Live Earth, a 24-hour-long series of concerts in eight cities around the world that’s bringing together everyone from Al Gore to Kelly Clarkson and 100 other artists to raise awareness of global warming. And for Cambridge startup GoLoco, it’s also a big opportunity to demonstrate that its social-networking ridesharing service is off on the right foot. In an inspired move on the Fourth of July, founder Robin Chase contacted concert organizers about the service gap she spied for an important facet of the event: carpooling. Starting yesterday, GoLoco has been featured on the Live Earth site as a preferred means of getting people to and from the New York portion of the event at Giants Stadium, as well as to and from concert-related house parties in the U.S. and Canada. Chase is hoping the endorsement, coupled with a few website tweaks that make it easier for people to use GoLoco, will provide a critical mass to move her new venture into the fast lane.

“This will be the biggest thing that we’ve done,” she told me yesterday evening. “This is what we’re made for—getting like-minded people to common destinations.”

Chase, in case you missed the debut of GoLoco on Earth Day this April, is the co-founder of Zipcar. She zeroed in on networked ridesharing as her next big thing because it’s a potentially powerful means of helping the environment while saving people money on the costs of maintaining a car, which she says typically account for 18 percent of household expenses. “People think if they buy their Prius they’re home free. It turns out if everybody in America bought a fuel-efficient car when they bought a new car, 10 years from now that would reduce demand for fossil fuel by 5 percent,” she says. Carpooling, though, can have a much bigger effect. “If everyone shared just one trip a week, we would reduce demand by 5 percent immediately,” says Chase. “The miles they travel alone in the car is what people really should think about reducing, and that’s what GoLoco addresses.”

The idea is straightforward: take advantage of today’s huge Internet penetration and the popularity of social networking to let people offer or find rides—to work, the store, or wherever. The social networking aspect of it allows users to post trips to friends, colleagues, or other groups and see the profiles of people whose trips match theirs. If the drivers choose to split travel costs with riders, GoLoco charges a transaction fee.

But while Chase says strong sign-up rates demonstrate demand for the service, the small number of rides posted has prevented the idea from really taking off. The situation has left her a bit frustrated. “They’re expecting a trip database without realizing they’re the database,” she says. “People haven’t grasped that this is them and their networks—that they have to personally invite the friends they want to go with and post the destinations they want to go to,” she says. As with other web 2.0 applications, only when there gets to be a critical mass of such user-generated content can the system really hum into high gear.

That’s what Chase is hoping Live Earth can help accomplish. She realized that the concert and GoLoco were made for each other—since they both seek to bring together people motivated to reduce their carbon footprints. “About 50 percent of an event’s carbon emissions comes from people getting there,” she relates. “Imagining people going to any kind of climate change anything without thinking of the mode of transportation is kind of preposterous.” Her 8 a.m. email to concert officials on July 4 offered hard numbers on how much CO2 was averted by ridesharing. By 9 a.m. she had the answer: ‘Yes.’ “Need Someone To Carpool With? Go Loco!” reads a section of the Live Earth site.

Chase and her husband, Roy Russell, who is handling technical matters at GoLoco the same way he did at Zipcar, have just finished tweaking their web site to make posting rides easier for the expected rush leading up the Live Earth concert and afterwards.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Chase says of the concert. As a one-time public health consultant, she sees a parallel with infectious diseases. “Large events are the source of infection, and then people go back to their lives and disseminate the experience—and so we’ll see if this plays out to be true. This is that test.”

Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at [email protected] Follow @bbuderi

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