As many of Auckland's buses sit dormant, Chariot hopes to inspire a new form of public transport with ride-share app

Take a look at the city roads during peak times and it's a sea of cars filled with one passenger (in 2013, 80 percent of seats on New Zealand roads were empty). So what if some of that space could be rented? As ride-sharing app Chariot launches a beta Android version, that's an idea it hopes will catch on in New Zealand.

The idea of the sharing economy seems great in theory (even though the definition has been ridiculously broad. Netflix? Come on). The reality is usually different. Turns out people would rather buy a poorly made spanner than use technology to rent one from their neighbour. And when it comes to transport, some people still seem to get a perverse pleasure out of the ritual of sitting in solitude and listening to their favourite radio station on the way to or from work and can think of nothing worse than sharing their journey with other people. But Chariot thinks it can help fix an inefficient system and claims to be the "start of a transformation in urban, suburban and inter-city transportation".

From today, people can download the Chariot beta app on Google Play for their Android devices and connect with people driving in the same direction, in a similar fashion to Lyft LineUberPool and, yes, public transport. Chariot intends to also launch the iOS version of the app soon.

“For roughly the price of a bus fare, people who use Chariot will be able to get a ride from, or give a ride to someone going in the same direction," says Wellington-based Chariot CEO and co-founder Dr Thomas Kiefer in a release. "It is a convenient, affordable, fun and safe way to get to where you need to go."

As the Australian stunt below shows, cars take up a hell of a lot of space. And the Chariot launch comes on the day Auckland was expected to face major traffic pressure as a result of the bus driver strike (although some commuters from the Idealog Towers said it was actually lighter because many people found alternative arrangements or took the day off). 

While its website says there are other ride sharing and carpool services in New Zealand, Chariot "is the only one that can be used on a smartphone providing waypoint matching and that facilitates commuting and long distance travel". 

Users of Chariot can drive passengers and rent up to three seats in their car and share the cost of travel. And as they are not transporting passengers for reward or hire, drivers only require a full driver’s license, not a “P” endorsement. They simply receive a contribution towards the cost of the trip, says Dr Kiefer. Chariot also receives its fee for facilitating the arrangement. 

Passengers can browse listings or create ride requests and once a ride is confirmed, a price is set up front between the passenger and the driver. All payments are securely processed and cashless through the app. 

Safety, something the established taxi market often calls into question when discussing the new breed of transport options like Uber, has also been considered. 

“The app has identity and vehicle registration functions, and users can share the details of any ride with a contact. Apart from pure ‘safety’ we’ve also looked at what makes users most comfortable. So we also have a rating and two way review system, and women can choose to travel only with other women,” says Dr Kiefer.

Meanwhile, drivers can browse requests and create their own listings as a way to fill up empty seats.

Drivers can pick up and drop off one or more passengers heading in the same direction – thanks to Chariot’s ‘waypoint -matching’ algorithm.

“We are particularly proud of this feature, which will generate more matches, a higher uptake of seats and in return, less cars on the road,” says Dr Kiefer.

The theory is good. But we're irrational creatures. So whether Chariot can get past the strong human desire to avoid strangers, even if it means daily frustration and environmental degradation, remains to be seen. 

Speaking of interesting transport options, Spark has also turned five of its increasingly anachronistic phoneboxes into electric vehicle charging stations. 

The initiative, dubbed Spark Plugs, give electric vehicle drivers the ability to ‘top-up’ their car batteries at selected phone boxes, extending their car’s range and combating ‘range anxiety’ – the fear that you won’t be able to reach your destination, one of the main obstacles to widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

“Using our lovely phone boxes as top-up charging stations is an incredibly innovative and modest idea, and yet another way to breathe new life into the humble phone box which has a reputation of being a bit out of date," says Spark Ventures CEO Rod Snodgrass. "More than a thousand of them are now WiFi hotspots too, which was another Australasian first, so they’re quickly becoming a kind of ‘digital Swiss army knife’. “More importantly, this piece of kiwi ingenuity is another part of Spark’s commitment to New Zealand. As the number of electric vehicles rises we imagine the possibility of a network of EV chargers all around the country, connected to thousands of public phone boxes, helping unleash the incredible potential of the electric vehicle community. We are proud to be playing a small part in the growing electric vehicle movement in New Zealand – every little bit makes a difference to our future. Electric vehicle drivers justifiably feel good about doing their bit for the environment, and we want to help that feeling last a little longer."

All phoneboxes will also be listed on Plugshare, a crowdsourcing app that plots charging stations all over the world. The pilot will run through to the end of April 2016, and if it’s successful, Spark will look at expanding the network, provided the necessary permissions and consents are obtained.