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From the Founder: About the Rural Carpool Project

I'm Michael Jensen. I've been doing Internet stuff for 35+ years, since before the World Wide Web, mostly in the academic publishing sector. Recently, I decided to "retire" to build some projects close to my heart, ones that are unlikely to be built otherwise: low- or no-profit projects that might possibly be useful to the world.

This Rural Carpool system is, as I recently told my wife, "the second coolest project I've ever done." For most of the last fifteen years, I've lived in delightful rural Nova Scotia, nearly a decade living on a gorgeous farm off a long gravel road, a half hour from the nearest grocery store. In the decades before that, I'd mostly lived in Metro areas like Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC for fifteen years. So I've learned a few things about the differences between city living and rural living.

Rural = Different Transit Constraints
For rural folks, because of the low population density, personal cars are essential: there are no taxi services, nor Ubers, nor Lyfts, nor scheduled bus routes or trains or trams. And it's a long way to anywhere.

We rural folks tend to plan our Big Trips to a nearby population center (a town or a city), usually several days in advance. Further, if there's an appointment of some kind "in town," we might also plan other errands: a jaunt to the hardware store or the mall, or drop off that thing for repair, or maybe get some strings for the violin, gas up the car, and get some Pad Thai to bring home. Because it takes an hour of driving round trip, you gotta make the trip count. Driving's expensive, in time and gasoline!

Rural Carpool is intended to address this specific set of needs, for a dispersed rural population: a geographic region with a a bunch of farms, hamlets, villages and towns, dispersed between a few larger towns and cities where the hospitals, the errands, and the non-usual shopping takes place. My region (see regional map) happens to have a sort of "V" shape, with a few small towns, a few big towns, and one major destination city (Halifax) two hours away. Rural Carpool's emphasis is on facilitating shared round trips, from smaller town to larger, and then back home.

Enabling Technology
Rural Carpool presumes its members have Web and email access, but (as yet) we are not planning a true "phone app." The "on-the-phone" site experience is just fine. App development and cell phone text messaging have structural complexities and costs that cleverness, the Web, and email do not. That said, a true App is likely, in the future.

I am engineering this system so that we could fairly easily have hundreds, even thousands of locally-designed and -maintained Carpool Communities, in which a leader or two, with some online savvy, could set up a local Rural Carpool Community in a handful of hours, gather some like-minded folks as the Advisory Board, promote it locally, and then invest an few hours a week in maintenance and promotion-- in order to provide their regional community with a Carpool Community, to easily share rides and save personal $$$ and global CO2.

Acknowledging the Regional Community
That term, "regional community," is a variable target, deeply affected by the landscape and the habits of the inhabitants. Transportation networks in rural Alberta are very different from those of rural Nova Scotia (or Nevada vs. Louisiana). And to understand that region's rhythms and patterns, you have to live there. One size never fits all Communities.

What's in it for Michael?
The Rural Carpool system cannot, by its nature and design, be a gigantic moneymaker for anyone, no matter how many Carpool Communities get created. No venture capitalist would underwrite it, nor do I want them to. The system doesn't require (or even accept) money directly from its Member users. Trip costs are shared between the Riders and the Driver. So how does it survive financially?

A Carpool Community is a niche product that works only in a cooperative mode. We hope to have our salaries (and the part-time income of the local Admins) funded by a mixture of local sponsorships, special event charges, foundation support of local initiatives paying small site fees, local advertising, and other non-intrusive methods. It's not a model that prioritizes capital, monetization, or "enhanced shareholder value," but should sustain both growth and continued improvement. The appropriate mix of support will depend on the region and its community character.

Goals for Localizing and Self-funding
The general administration of Rural Carpool, and the cost of maintaining and improving its code base (once fully developed), should not require a huge staff, and wouldn't need to grow exponentially; that is, we should be able to keep operating costs fairly low -- mostly the handful of FTEs and consultants on the administrative side.

Each Rural Carpool Community will have its own database, will have local control, and will have its own internal governance and self-definition flavors. This decentralized model is designed to do one complicated but simple thing: to help connect people with similar needs, and then let the humans work out the details of their own cooperation.

For me, this decentralized, distributed model of self-organization and shared support means that Rural Carpool can both grow and be sustainable without charging the actual Members, without requiring venture capitalists, and without being driven by profit maximization. Rural Carpool can just do its job, of helping people self-organize to share their predictable travel.

We shall see where Rural Carpool goes. To me, this isn't a business, but rather a personal mission, and I'll keep improving the system as I get feedback. If we do things right, I might be able to a) help make rural transportation more effective and efficient, and b) save a lot of people a lot of money, and c) save a LOT of CO2 and other pollutants. Sweet!


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