Going Your Way

Kate Sydney had never met me, but on the basis of sharing a mutual acquaintance, and knowing what I like for breakfast, she unhesitatingly opened the door of her 1998 Nissan so I could ride to Target with her. The trip—from a Cambridge, Massachusetts, street corner to a shopping center in Watertown—didn't take long, but it spared the world 10 pounds of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by millions, and you have one reason Robin Chase started GoLoco, an Internet-based service that uses social networking to create instant car pools. If Chase has her way, GoLoco will be the behavioral equivalent of the Prius, zapping enviro-guilt while cooling off Gaia.

Chase, 48, whose previous start-up was the Web-based car-rental service Zipcar, saw a big problem: 75 percent of all auto trips transporting only one human, driving Earth to ruin with toxic emissions. Her idea was to let drivers and riders use the Web to turn solitary rides into shared ones, saving fuel and cutting costs. She'd also build a business by taking a cut of the fees that passengers on the site would pay drivers to share the costs. She saw three obstacles to her goal: A fear of strangers. The difficulty of finding rides. And a feeling that the effort really isn't worth it.

But now the threat of climate crisis has lots of people going green. The connection problem, she believes, will be solved by a growing online network where members routinely post their intended trips. Meanwhile, GoLoco will handle the payments that let riders pay their share, without cheesy discussions of who owes what.

That leaves the stranger issue. When you sign up for GoLoco, you submit a picture and share information about yourself from sites like Facebook and Flickr. You speak into your computer mike to describe your favorite breakfast. You note the Olo's you trust enough to ride with, so others can see if you know people in common. Fellow ride-sharers will write reviews of your behavior, eBay style.

GoLoco goes live this week and rides can be posted to and from anywhere. Will this trump America's belief that a single-occupant vehicle is a God-given right? "It's not for everyone," admits Sydney, an MIT grad student who is helping GoLoco for a class project. "But I plan on posting other trips, because driving alone makes me feel pathetic." If GoLoco makes it, its fuel will be guilt.