KOKUA is a ride-sharing application for taxis in New York City
By entering where you are traveling from, where you are going to, and when, KOKUA returns a list of people around you going to and from similar locations at the same time. KOKUA is both a web and native iPhone application, so you can coordinate a ride home on your desktop before leaving the office or find a ride on-the-go from your mobile phone. By sharing the ride, you share the cost, and reduce your carbon footprint!
This project began a few years ago on a painfully cold February morning in New York City. I was running late to work and needed a cab, with the rest of Manhattan, on a morning when taxis were few and people aggressively vied for the next ride. I stood on the icy curb, without a cab in sight, surrounded by people all going in the same direction, wishing I could share a taxi (and the fare) instead of fend for it. This situation was clearly in need of improvement and I immediately began to sketch out a solution.
I set out to make an application that would provide context and mediate the social transaction of ride-sharing, so people could enjoy the benefit of splitting the cost of taxi transportation, without the unnecessary social risk involved in approaching a complete stranger. Another goal was to maximize efficiency by matching rider demand with vehicle availability. Taxis currently 'cruise' the street forty percent of the time creating unnecessary stress on the environment, driver, vehicle and road. This excess could be reduced, not only by coordinating like rides between passengers, but by broadcasting or automatically dispatching rides on-demand to the nearest available vehicle. This would remove the bias involved in traditional dispatch and could easily be customized to avoid imposing on existing service distribution.
In addition to familiarizing myself with industry standards and regulations, my research consisted of weekly field exercises to investigate the experiences and behavior of both taxi drivers and passengers of New York City. I spent many afternoons with my notebook watching people maneuver the curb, manage their bags, and negotiate each other, as they hailed, got in, and out of taxis. In the spirit of role-playing I rented a Zipcar and spent the afternoon picking strangers up in the street and taxiiing them around the city. I interviewed dozens of pedestrians and I took multiple cab rides a week to talk to drivers and hear their opinion on initiatives being implemented by the TLC.
It was during one of these conversations that the driver told me he had been on his shift for an hour and a half and I was his second passenger. Historically, taxi ridership has mapped closely to the economy, and it became clear that the current economic climate was impacting this man's livelihood. It appeared to be a great time to leverage common sense and create a service that would generate revenue for the driver, by increasing the number of riders, while saving money for the passenger, by reducing the cost of travel.
Exercises of this kind were wonderfully insightful into how people use taxis, what aspect of the experience could stand improvement, and how a service like KOKUA might work best in New York City. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed, especially the cab drivers, your experiences were invaluable and greatly informed the project.