Mobileware’s onTime commuter app, a program that provides users with transit schedules and ticketing information, has launched a new feature that encourages users to carpool through prize incentives with the main objective of reducing carbon emissions.
Yun Zhang, CEO and founder of Mobileware Inc., a company that develops digital applications, launched the carpool feature on March 1, 2022. Zhang is working with Anil Yazici, an associate professor of Stony Brook’s Civil Engineering Department. Yazici is researching the overall environmental impact of the carpool feature, as well as the behavioral impact it has on individuals utilizing it.
Yazici’s research is aimed at “trying to see how such a convenience changes people’s behaviors.” In other words, an aspect of his research involves seeing if using the onTime app will make users more inclined to carpool. Through the carpool feature, users can match with drivers and passengers traveling along the same route. Users can communicate with one another via the app once they match.
There is an instant option for impromptu traveling, as well as a scheduled time option for people who plan to carpool on a recurring basis.
The app creates an interactive experience for its users through gamification elements — elements that create an interactive and game-like experience for users — that incentivize people to use the new feature. Users can earn in-ap rewards called “green points” that allows them to win monthly prizes.
“We try to make it fun and engaging,” Zhang said. “To increase awareness to how important conservation is because the global climate crisis is real, whether you like it or not.”
The reduction of carbon emissions is particularly important in Long Island; as of 2018, Long Island already emits 40% more carbon dioxide per household than the rest of New York, according to the Long Island Index Report.
“By reducing the number of cars on the road, we are helping the environment,” Zhang said. “Less cars on the road, we are burning less fuel. Imagine, less fuel is burned, that means the demand for gasoline is lower. Less demand hopefully will lower the gas prices.”
onTime is an app catered to commuters, giving users access to transit schedules, routes and ticketing information. The carpool feature aims to solve the “first mile to last mile accessibility” problem, which is the issue people generally have getting from the train station or bus stop to their final destination.
“I expect that eventually more people will begin using transit because it’s easier to get access to,” Yazici said.
Zhang said that this feature can be used to carpool anywhere, including to and from school. The carpool feature operates from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“I think the app is a great idea,” Madison Pugliese, a sophomore pre-nursing student, said. Pugliese is a commuter student and drives to campus for her courses. “Driving back and forth everyday is definitely a hustle.”
“The group that will benefit the most are students, because not everyone owns a car,” Zhang said. He sees the app being utilized by students traveling to and from campus. Less cars coming to Stony Brook University would result in more available parking spots; lack of parking has been an issue that Stony Brook students have faced.
Using this carpool feature is also more cost-effective than calling a cab, Uber or Lyft. According to Zhang, carpooling through onTime costs one-fifth of the cost of the alternatives for passengers.
“[There is] no financial profit, it’s more like you share the cost of the trip,” Yazici said. Mobileware has partnered with Stripe, a financial service that offers payment processing software for mobile apps, for payments to be made to the driver directly through the app. Payments are based on IRS issued standardized mileage rates.
“It’s not meant to be a job, it’s really meant to help fellow commuters or fellow students,” Zhang said. The app is not intended for profit, both for the drivers and for Mobileware; the company is currently making no money from the app.
Despite liking the idea of the carpool feature, Pugliese worries that there are not enough safety features in place to prevent the possibility of getting in the car with someone who is “not who they say they are.” She said that people could make profiles pretending to be someone else.
Zhang plans to expand upon preexisting safety features in the future. “We definitely want to add additional security,” he said. He explained that implementing background checks on drivers right now would be “quite cost intensive.”
Currently, the app includes five features that enhance the safety of carpoolers. After matching with a driver or a rider, users receive a pin number that they can use to ensure that they are getting into the correct vehicle. Riders can share their trip with friends or family, so someone else is aware of their location. Student commuters have the option to match exclusively with other students on the app. There is also an option to choose a gender preference for the passengers or driver of a vehicle.
Zhang plans to match carpoolers based on personal interests, like hobbies and music taste, as the carpool feature expands and more people join.
As of March 31, the app had about 4,700 commuters using the carpool feature. “The more users sign up, the better the odds of matching,” Zhang said. “Our matching is not as high as we would like at this point, but it’s very encouraging to see a lot of users sign up.”
Zhang would like to see 1 million trips, or even 1 million miles being traveled through this feature within the first year of its launch. At that point, he thinks that Yazici will have plenty of data to assess for his research.
“It’s making an impact already,” Yazici said about the app’s positive effect on the environment. “The party has just started.”
Correction, 04/28/22, 1:43 p.m.: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Mobileware was an Internet of Things (IoT) provider and used an incorrect logo. It should have said that the company develops digital applications and used the logo now shown.