It’s no secret that politicians are struggling to reconcile transportation needs and the increasing population in Toronto; the Toronto Region Board of Trade reports that gridlock costs the city $6 billion in lost productivity.
Yet it seems that Canadians are still reluctant to ditch their cars, since 83 per cent of Canadians still reportedly drive alone.
Hamid Akbari and Iman Hajizadeh hope to alleviate some of that congestion and help both car-lovers and commuters. They are the co-founders of Blancride, a mobile application-based carpooling service that connects carpoolers and drivers in the area with common destinations.
“It’s for people who care about gridlock. It’s for people who care about reducing their carbon footprint,” Akbari says. “Especially with the Pan AM games coming through, our roads and cities are going to be packed!”
Akbari, who works at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, would often get together with Hajizadeh, and the two friends would discuss their irritation with gridlock and environmental impact of so many cars on the road.
In 2012, their discussions “Eventually got to the point where we asked, why don’t we do this and just see where it goes?” Hajizadeh says. And the idea for Blancride was born.
With help from the university and the Spark Centre, an innovation hub serving startups in the Durham Region, they eventually opened an office at the Centre and enjoyed a limited launch of the app available to UOIT’s 12,000 students. Within eight weeks, they had 1,200 of these students using the app. With another office recently opened in Toronto, they are hoping for Blancride to gain traction in a city that continues to struggle with gridlock problems.
Blancride works by allowing people to sign up as passengers or drivers, though when you first sign up, you are automatically signed up as a passenger. Passengers can set whatever destination they’d like to go to, including the desired time and their time flexibility, and the app will find a “match” based on other drivers in the area. And the awkwardness of having to ask for money is removed – the app automatically charges the cost of the ride to the passenger’s credit card, based on mileage and the average cost of a ride per kilometre.
“It’s not really about profit-making for the driver, it’s about splitting the cost so both will benefit.” Akbari says. For those who hate waiting outside during the cold winters, the app tracks exactly where the driver is and how many minutes until they get to you.
Signing up as a driver requires a more stringent screening process – Blancride verifies your email and phone number and ensures that you have a valid driver’s license and insurance. Both passengers and drivers are subject to a ‘rating’ system at the end of the ride so that the community knows whom they should trust to get them to where they want to go.
They admit that one of the biggest challenges in getting Blancride to become more mainstream is the fact that people have to commit to some change in behavior. If you have a car, “You get up and you drive to work,” says Hajizadeh. “But with carpooling, you have to somewhat think in advance.”
However, as people become more conscious of the environment and commuters become increasingly frustrated with longer commuting times, they are optimistic that people will eventually adopt their “conscious commuting” app.
“It’s conscious from an environmental perspective. The majority of greenhouse gases in Canada come from transportation, and these are issues we can solve,” Hajizadeh says. “It’s also conscious from an economic perspective. Each car that we operate on a daily basis costs almost $30 a day. If you switch to carpooling, you can save some of that money.”