Websites give car-pooling a lift

Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority and individual websites are encouraging ride sharing.

Benjamin de Terssac, founder and chief driver of Carpool Arabia.  Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // An online push by the Roads and Transport Authority and a private website to encourage car-pooling among commuters has been warmly received.

The RTA website, Sharekni, allows users to register and find others who want to share the daily drive. Carpool Arabia does the same thing but is privately operated.

They both say commuters are keen to avoid relentless rush-hour traffic, the challenge of finding parking and are eager for some company on the trip.

“The kryptonite of Dubai is parking and traffic,” said Ryan Aldrin, 27, who works for Nabbesh, an online community portal for freelance workers.

“I’m all for a company that can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and help the environment, but also reduce the amount the traffic because there are a lot of people all going to the same places every day.”

The RTA has been promoting car pools as an eco-conscious solution to traffic congestion.

The success of projects that advocate it, such as Carpool Arabia, depend almost entirely on stronger public engagement. More participants mean more routes and travel times to share.

“I think the biggest thing in Dubai is that people want something that is easy, so if Carpool Arabia is going to be successful it has to be adopted by the masses,” said Mr Aldrin, from the UK.

Carpool Arabia uses a peer-review system that holds users accountable for their conduct and urges them to provide better car-pooling experiences, says Benjamin de Terssac, its co-founder.

The site, which is still in a testing phase, uses what the company says are innovative techniques to establish trust and promote car-pooling, and overcome a reluctance to get into cars with strangers.

“Profiles is the main tool,” Mr de Terssac said. “This communication is very important because it is the way in which the users can introduce themselves to their future car-poolers and verify their identity through their Facebook, so that they can connect.”

The site also allows users to chat before making a commitment, so they can fine tune details or just get a better understanding of who they might be spending hours with.

“If you car-pool with me and you are acting like a jerk, I can write that ‘this person was smoking in the car,’ and so on, and this is how you make other people aware of each other’s behaviour,” Mr de Terssac said.

Rabih El Khodr, 29, a chief trainer at branding consultancy Standup Communication, is sold on the idea.

“I got introduced to Carpool Arabia at the Arabnet Digital Summit earlier in June,” Mr El Khodr said. “I needed to figure out a stable mode of transport all the way to the Palm Jumeirah and so I said to myself, ‘Why not give it a try?’

“It’s a very social way of transport. On top of that, if you and the people you are car-pooling with share common interests, it can make for a very memorable experience along the way, not to mention that you save money and the environment.”

Sharekni is similar to Carpool Arabia but Mr El Khodr, from Lebanon, thinks the RTA should provide more, offering infrastructure support through car-pool lanes and policies that encourage shared rides.

Both users suggested there needed to be wider engagement from the community and the government in encouraging something that has a huge potential to reduce carbon emissions.