A handful of folks in Brooklyn may have found a way to put the idea of virtual communities and social networks to use in a practical way. Think Foursquare combined with the utility of commuting, as one organizer put it.
Roadify is described as "the first comprehensive 'social transportation' company, combining social networking with a wealth of published transit information."
I sat down with Dylan Goelz, who is in charge of marketing and community outreach for Roadify, to find out more about the "social transportation" start-up.
Park Slope, Brooklyn makes up one square mile of the borough and is home to some 63,000 people, including Roadify co-founder Nick Nyhan and his family. Before Roadify, when Nyhan would come home in his car with his family, he would drop them off at the door and then set out to find a parking spot. Goelz said the difficulty in finding a parking spot in Park Slope was the main reason for starting the company.
"There had to be a better way," Goelz said.
Their solution was partly inspired by some of the creators' experiences working on President Obama's campaign. If it was easy to participate and free, people would get involved, Goelz said. And so Roadify was born with the concept that it would be supported by its users.
Roadify maintains an automated database of available parking spots, as well as bus and train schedules, that is accessed and updated by users via text message. The bus and train schedules are also updated by the published MTA schedules and calculations.
So if you're hopping in your car about to vacate a parking spot, you text Roadify the location; that's called a "give." If someone else is looking for an available space in that area, they can find it by using Roadify -- rather than searching aimlessly. That's a "get." To find the nearest bus stop or learn when the next bus will be arriving at your location, you would also text Roadify.
"You can make a better commute just by 'giving' a parking spot or bus," Goelz said.
And there are a lot of commuters out there, Goelz knows. He can list the number of commuters in the country (121 million, non-rural) and the length of the commute for a typical New Yorker (70 minutes), as well as the amount of local traffic caused by people looking for parking spots (64 percent), off the top of his head.
If Roadify can shorten commutes and make public transportation more accessible for even a fraction of those commuters, it could have a large impact, Goelz said.
In its first six months, Roadify has saturated 3.5 percent of the Park Slope population, with 2,500 users, Goelz said. And those users have contributed 25,000 "gives." Users also can create teams and earn incentives from local businesses for giving.
So far the company is privately funded and Goelz said it will be looking for investment soon.
"We have a product that's ready to be developed," he said.
They're in the process of developing applications for the iPhone and Android. But looking even farther into the future, Goelz considered the possibility of Roadify one day being available on your car's GPS and able to point you to the nearest open parking spot.
Most of the company's creators have political or engineering backgrounds, so the technical aspects of Roadify are handled by Ethan Arutunian, who created the database, Goelz said. Arutunian is based in Washington state.
Eventually Roadify expects to expand regionally and by mode, with different ways to "give" and "get," Goelz said.
And at some point, Roadify might be ubiquitous.
"One day we'll be in Israel and Australia," he said.
To learn more about Roadify, visit www.roadify.com . Or, if you're in Brooklyn, text "Road" to 95495 to join Roadify.