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GreenShare, car pooling 2.0

Coloured origami in the shape of cars 
Citizens' mobility and a sustainable approach to the problems of traffic take centre stage in the team effort behind GreenShare, an innovative car pooling platform which won the Start Cup Sardegna 2012 and was shortlisted for Italy's National Innovation Award 2012. As is known, car pooling or car sharing consists of sharing car journeys to reduce transport costs. We have met up with Giuseppe Colistra, the project team leader, to learn how the idea of GreenShare came about and to have a preview of the targets for 2013.

How and when did you first come up with the idea of GreenShare?
GreenShare was conceived in early 2012, based on an actual personal need, which I believe is widely shared: to meet the strong demand for mobility in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. The steep climb of petrol prices to almost 2 euro per litre coupled with the high costs of owning and maintaining a car and with the impact of the economic crisis. All these factors have increased the already high costs of private transport. The typical answer is to use public transport, which however has fixed timetables and routes and at times may be inconvenient. Another alternative is cycling, but this too suffers from constraints, such as hilly terrain or the lack of bike routes. We analysed these problems leveraging on our background in telecommunications engineering and ICT research and developed the idea of GreenShare, which updates the car pooling concept by adapting it to the age of the smart phones and the web 2.0.

How was the GreenShare team set up?
The team was born in the laboratories of the Department of Electric and Electronic Engineering of Cagliari University. It is made up of four people: three of us, i.e. myself, Michele Nitti and Virginia Pilloni, are PhD students at the Postdoctoral Research School in Electronic Engineering and Informatics. The fourth member is Luigi Atzori, a researcher at the same Department. We have been working together for years, in particular focusing on the Internet of things, and we share a strong interest in technological innovation. As a research group we are engaged in several projects for the application of ICT solutions to mobility and for the management of energy consumption. We also work with important companies such as Akhela, CTM (the Cagliari's Local Transport Company), Tiscali, Telit and Vitrociset, plus a number of local enterprises.

The transport culture in Italy is to a certain degree resistant to change. How do you plan to deliver your message to those who treasure the independence of using their own vehicle?
We are living in a time when many people, both in Italy and abroad, are struggling with the economic crisis. This is actually the best time to put forward new models and subvert the old notions of consumption. An important example is the concept of "collaborative consumption", chosen by the Time magazine as one of the ten ideas that will change the world. The model consists of sharing, bartering, lending, renting, giving as a gift or exchanging goods instead of buying them. These are time-honoured concepts, which digital technology allows us to present in a new form. GreenShare is part and parcel of this approach and this is why we believe it is well equipped to challenge and overcome the cultural resistance that prompts people to travel alone in their cars. Together with financial considerations, growing awareness of environmental and sustainability issues on the part of people and policymakers also plays a role. The problem of urban pollution from road traffic is widely felt and a number of authorities are increasingly investing in alternative modes of transport for their citizens. This paves the way for changing ingrained habits and we believe GreenShare can be a driver of this process.

GreenShare is based on a feedback system: exactly how does it work?
In all those situations where we have to share an experience with people we don't know, the main barrier we need to break down is distrust. To minimise this problem we will provide a social network-based feedback system on users. Under the system, those who have used GreenShare will give a score to their travel companions, which will serve to build their reputation. To boost users' trust, it will be possible to link the GreenShare account to the main social network accounts. This way, when choosing their travel companions, users will be able to see whether they have friends in common or whether a friend of theirs has already had a travel experience with a given user. According to the "collaborative consumption theory" in any sharing scenario the true currency will indeed be people's reputation, as only those who are judged to be trustworthy will be able to remain in the system. This is why GreenShare places great emphasis on the social aspect of the application: this will make the system safer and will increase its uptake.

What are the Green points?
The Green points are a kind of virtual currency, which can be earned by users who share their cars and will make using GreenShare even simpler, easier and faster. The system will allocate points automatically on the basis of several factors, such as mileage, number of persons transported and any highway tolls. For each trip, drivers will gain Green points they can then use either to travel as passenger through GreenShare or by converting them into other goods or services offered by the scheme's partners (e.g. petrol vouchers).

After the important recognitions received in 2012, what is in store for Greenshare?
After the successes of 2012, including winning first prize in the Start Cup Sardegna and participating in the National Innovation Award in Bari, the year 2013 opened in high gear to complete development of the platform. We plan to keep to our roadmap and issue the first version of GreenShare in early summer. To ensure the success of the service launch, we shall also fine-tune the project from the viewpoint of technology, business idea and business model. So our future plans are quite simple: a lot of hard work and a single, ambitious goal: turn our project into reality.

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Sara Palmas