Robin Chase on the (Financial) Value of Sharing

Robin Chase founded Zipcar, the company that allows users to buy time in shared cars, in 1999. Now she has turned her attention to carpooling...

Robin Chase founded Zipcar, the company that allows users to buy time in shared cars, in 1999. Now she has turned her attention to carpooling with GoLoco, a website she founded that allows you to use your social networks for cost-saving ride-sharing. A version of this article appeared online previously.

We have to get to a place where we are leveraging every investment and maximizing its utility. Zipcar is a good example of that. In older days, we would each own our entire car by ourselves, and it would sit idle for 22 hours a day. Zipcar developed a platform for people to share cars, and now we only pay for the amount we use. What strikes me about that example is that we-as individuals, as companies, and as governments-all have excess capacity that lies idle. And when we have this excess capacity, we're paying the entire cost and reaping all the benefits that we want. But there's typically a huge amount of excess benefit that's going nowhere while we're absorbing all the costs. I like the idea of us thinking as a society about ways in which we can create platforms for other people to share in that excess capacity.

I didn't think about these principles when I founded Zipcar, but what I saw at that time was a leveraging of scarce and expensive resources. I would say that today, as a planet, we have many more scarce and expensive resources than we ever imagined before. We need to be thinking about how we can maximize the utility and benefit we get out of our individual budgets. And the way to do that is by multipurposing every asset we have, and every investment we make, so that we don't have to buy seven different devices. We can buy one device.

A wonderful example is the transponders that people have in their cars that are used for collecting tolls. It's a $30 device that is used 30 seconds in a month. If we could look at that device and multipurpose it, make it open so people could add their applications on top of it, it could become a mobile internet provider or something like that. It could be that, by letting others get into that transponder, there might be fabulous other opportunities that EZ Pass (for example) isn't thinking of. I can't predict today what would be useful. I could make up a couple of things, but I don't have to if it's an open device and an open network-innovators and entrepreneurs around the country will be thinking of ways to exploit it and leverage those investments we've already made.

GoLoco offers the opportunity at the personal level to say, Where do I have incredible excess capacity in my car trip? Eighty-six percent of the trips we take in our cars we take alone. Each one of those trips costs about 50 cents a mile, so it starts to add up-to about $8,000 a year. So there's a real cost that we're incurring personally when we choose to drive alone in our cars and not take the extra effort to see if we can share that ride and share those costs. But there are unintended benefits from sharing any kind of resource-with carpooling, you get to spend time with people you know and like, make great networks, and meet new people. I look at that and I think that's just another place where it's a very high-cost resource that all of us have that we are squandering.

Interview as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to a full version of the interview.

Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

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