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TED2007

Robin Chase: The idea behind Zipcar (and what comes next)

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Views 438,919

Robin Chase founded Zipcar, the world’s biggest car-sharing business. That was one of her smaller ideas. Here she travels much farther, contemplating road-pricing schemes that will shake up our driving habits and a mesh network vast as the Interstate.

- Transport networker
With Zipcar, Robin Chase introduced car-crazy America to the concept of non-ownership. Now she's flipping that model with Buzzcar, which lets you rent your own auto to your neighbors. Full bio

I'm going to talk about two stories today.
00:12
One is how we need to use market-based pricing to affect demand
00:15
and use wireless technologies to dramatically reduce our emissions
00:22
in the transportation sector.
00:26
And the other is that there is an incredible opportunity
00:29
if we choose the right wireless technologies;
00:31
how we can generate a new engine for economic growth
00:34
and dramatically reduce C02 in the other sectors.
00:37
I'm really scared.
00:40
We need to reduce C02 emissions in ten to fifteen years by 80 percent
00:42
in order to avert catastrophic effects.
00:46
And I am astounded that I'm standing here to tell you that.
00:49
What are catastrophic effects? A three degree centigrade climate change rise
00:52
that will result in 50 percent species extinction.
00:57
It's not a movie. This is real life.
01:02
And I'm really worried, because when people talk about cars
01:05
-- which I know something about --
01:08
the press and politicians and people in this room are all thinking,
01:11
"Let's use fuel-efficient cars."
01:15
If we started today, 10 years from now, at the end of this window of opportunity,
01:18
those fuel-efficient cars will reduce our fossil fuel needs by four percent.
01:26
That is not enough.
01:32
But now I'll talk about some more pleasant things.
01:34
Here are some ways that we can make some dramatic changes.
01:35
So, Zipcar is a company that I founded seven years ago,
01:38
but it's an example of something called car sharing.
01:42
What Zipcar does is we park cars throughout dense urban areas
01:45
for members to reserve, by the hour and by the day, instead of using their own car.
01:48
How does it feel to be a person using a Zipcar?
01:53
It means that I pay only for what I need.
01:56
All those hours when a car is sitting idle, I'm not paying for it.
01:59
It means that I can choose a car exactly for that particular trip.
02:03
So, here's a woman that reserved MiniMia, and she had her day.
02:07
I can take a BMW when I'm seeing clients.
02:11
I can drive my Toyota Element when I'm going to go on that surfing trip.
02:14
And the other remarkable thing is it's, I think, the highest status of car ownership.
02:22
Not only do I have a fleet of cars available to me in seven cities around the world
02:28
that I can have at my beck and call,
02:32
but heaven forbid I would ever maintain
02:34
or deal with the repair or have anything to do with it.
02:37
It's like the car that you always wanted that your mom said that you couldn't have.
02:40
I get all the good stuff and none of the bad.
02:45
So, what is the social result of this?
02:48
The social result is that today's Zipcar has 100,000 members
02:51
driving 3,000 cars parked in 3,000 parking spaces.
02:55
Instead of driving 12,000 miles a year, which is what the average city dweller does,
02:59
they drive 500 miles a year. Are they happy?
03:02
The company has been doubling in size ever since I founded it, or greater.
03:06
People adore the company. And it's better,
03:10
you know? They like it.
03:15
So, how is it that people went from the 12,000 miles a year to 500 miles?
03:17
It's because they said, "It's eight to 10 dollars an hour and 65 dollars a day.
03:21
If I'm going to go buy some ice cream,
03:26
do I really want to spend eight dollars to go buy the ice cream? Or maybe I'll do without.
03:29
Maybe I would have bought the ice cream when I did some other errand."
03:32
So, people really respond very quickly to it, to prices.
03:35
And the last point I want to make is Zipcar would never be possible without technology.
03:38
It required that it was completely trivial: that it takes 30 seconds
03:43
to reserve a car, go get it, drive it.
03:47
And for me, as a service provider,
03:51
I would never be able to provide you a car for an hour
03:53
if the transaction cost was anything.
03:55
So, without these wireless technologies, this, as a concept, could never happen.
03:57
So, here's another example. This company is GoLoco --
04:02
I'm launching it in about three weeks --
04:05
and I hope to do for ridesharing what I did for car sharing.
04:07
This will apply to people across all of America.
04:11
Today, 75 percent of the trips are single-occupancy vehicles,
04:14
yet 12 percent of trips to work are currently carpool.
04:17
And I think that we can apply social networks and online payment systems
04:22
to completely change how people feel about ridesharing
04:27
and make that trip much more efficient.
04:29
And so when I think about the future,
04:32
people will be thinking that sharing the ride with someone
04:35
is this incredibly great social event out of their day.
04:38
You know, how did you get to TED? You went with other TEDsters.
04:41
How fabulous. Why would you ever want to go by yourself in your own car?
04:44
How did you go food shopping? You went with your neighbor, what a great social time.
04:47
You know it's going to really transform how we feel about travel,
04:50
and it will also, I think, enhance our freedom of mobility.
04:55
Where can I go today and who can I do it with?
04:59
Those are the types of things that you will look at and feel.
05:01
And the social benefits:
05:04
the rate of single-occupancy vehicles is, I told you, 75 percent;
05:06
I think we can get that down to 50 percent.
05:09
The demand for parking, of course, is down, congestion and the CO2 emissions.
05:12
One last piece about this, of course, is that it's enabled by wireless technologies.
05:15
And it's the cost of driving that's making people want to be able to do this.
05:20
The average American spends 19 percent of their income on their car,
05:23
and there's a pressure for them to reduce that cost, yet they have no outlet today.
05:27
So, the last example of this is congestion pricing, very famously done in London.
05:34
It's when you charge a premium for people to drive on congested roads.
05:39
In London, the day they turned the congestion pricing on,
05:42
there was a 25 percent decrease in congestion overnight,
05:44
and that's persisted for the four years in which they've been doing congestion pricing.
05:49
And again, do people like the outcome?
05:52
Ken Livingstone was reelected.
05:56
So again, we can see that price plays an enormous role in people's willingness
05:59
to reduce their driving behavior.
06:05
We've tripled the miles that we drive since 1970 and doubled them since 1982.
06:08
There's a huge slack in that system;
06:12
with the right pricing we can undo that.
06:14
Congestion pricing is being discussed in every major city around the world
06:18
and is, again, wirelessly enabled.
06:21
You weren't going to put tollbooths around the city of London
06:23
and open and shut those gates.
06:25
And what congestion pricing is is that it's a technology trial and a psychological trial
06:27
for something called road pricing.
06:32
And road pricing is where we're all going to have to go,
06:35
because today we pay for our maintenance
06:37
and wear and tear on our cars with gas taxes.
06:39
And as we get our cars more fuel-efficient,
06:42
that's going to be reducing the amount of revenue that you get off of those gas taxes,
06:47
so we need to charge people by the mile that they drive.
06:51
Whatever happens with congestion pricing and those technologies
06:55
will be happening with road pricing.
06:57
Why do we travel too much?
07:00
Car travel is underpriced and therefore we over-consumed.
07:02
We need to put this better market feedback.
07:05
And if we have it, you'll decide how many miles to drive,
07:07
what mode of travel, where to live and work.
07:09
And wireless technologies make this real-time loop possible.
07:11
So, I want to move now to the second part of my story,
07:15
which is: when are we going to start doing
07:17
this congestion pricing? Road pricing is coming.
07:22
When are we going to do it? Are we going to wait
07:26
10 to 15 years for this to happen
07:27
or are we going to finally have this political will to make it happen in the next two years?
07:29
Because I'm going to say, that is going to be the tool that's going to turn our usage overnight.
07:32
And what kind of wireless technology are we going to use?
07:36
This is my big vision.
07:40
There is a tool that can help us bridge the digital divide,
07:43
respond to emergencies, get traffic moving,
07:46
provide a new engine for economic growth
07:50
and dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in every sector.
07:53
And this is a moment from "The Graduate." Do you remember this moment?
07:59
You guys are going to be the handsome young guy
08:03
and I'm going to be the wise businessman.
08:06
"I want to say one word to you, just one word."
08:09
"Yes, sir?" "Are you listening?" "Yes I am."
08:11
"Ad-hoc peer-to-peer self-configuring wireless networks."
08:17
(Laughter)
08:21
These are also called mesh networks.
08:25
And in a mesh, every device contributes to and expands the network,
08:27
and I think you might have heard a little bit about it before.
08:31
I'm going to give you some examples.
08:33
You'll be hearing later today from Alan Kay.
08:35
These laptops, when a child opens them up,
08:37
they communicate with every single child in the classroom,
08:40
within that school, within that village.
08:43
And what is the cost of that communication system?
08:46
Zero dollars a month.
08:48
Here's another example: in New Orleans,
08:51
video cameras were mesh-enabled
08:53
so that they could monitor crime in the downtown French Quarter.
08:55
When the hurricane happened,
08:58
the only communication system standing was the mesh network.
09:00
Volunteers flew in, added a whole bunch of devices,
09:03
and for the next 12 months,
09:06
mesh networks were the only wireless that was happening in New Orleans.
09:08
Another example is in Portsmouth, U.K.
09:13
They mesh-enabled 300 buses and they speak to these smart terminals.
09:15
You can look at the terminal
09:19
and be able to see precisely where your bus is on the street
09:21
and when it's coming, and you can buy your tickets in real time.
09:25
Again, all mesh-enabled. Monthly communication cost: zero.
09:29
So, the beauty of mesh networks:
09:35
you can have these very low-cost devices.
09:38
Zero ongoing communication costs. Highly scalable;
09:40
you can just keep adding them, and as in Katrina,
09:43
you can keep subtracting them -- as long as there's some, we can still communicate.
09:45
They're resilient; their redundancy is built into this fabulous decentralized design.
09:49
What are the incredible weaknesses?
09:53
There isn't anybody in Washington lobbying to make it happen --
09:55
or in those municipalities, to build out their cities with these wireless networks --
09:59
because there's zero ongoing communications cost.
10:02
So, the examples that I gave you are these islands of mesh networks,
10:05
and networks are interesting only as they are big.
10:09
How do we create a big network?
10:13
Are you guys ready again -- "The Graduate"?
10:18
This time you will still play the handsome young thing, but I'll be the sexy woman.
10:21
These are the next two lines in the movie.
10:25
"Where did you do it?" "In his car."
10:27
So you know, when you stick this idea ... (Laughter)
10:32
where would we expect me, Robin Chase, to be thinking
10:37
is imagine if we put a mesh-network device
10:41
in every single car across America.
10:43
We could have a coast-to-coast, free wireless communication system.
10:46
I guess I just want you to think about that.
10:52
And why is this going to happen? Because we're going to do congestion pricing,
10:56
we are going to do road tolls,
11:00
gas taxes are going to become road pricing.
11:02
These things are going to happen.
11:05
What's the wireless technology we're going to use?
11:07
Maybe we should use a good one. When are we going to do it?
11:09
Maybe we shouldn't wait for the 10 or 15 years for this to happen.
11:13
We should pull it forward.
11:16
So, I'd like us to launch the wireless Internet interstate wireless mesh system,
11:19
and require that this network be accessible to everyone, with open standards.
11:25
Right now in the transportation sector, we're creating these wireless devices --
11:30
I guess you guys might have Fast Pass here or Easy Lane --
11:34
that are single-purpose devices in these closed networks.
11:37
What is the point?
11:41
We're transferring just a few little data bits
11:42
when we're doing road controlling, road pricing.
11:44
We have this incredible excess capacity.
11:46
So, we can provide the lowest-cost means of going wireless coast-to-coast,
11:48
we can have resilient nationwide communication systems,
11:52
we have a new tool for creating efficiencies in all sectors.
11:55
Imagine what happens when the cost of getting information
11:58
from anywhere to anywhere is close to zero.
12:00
What you can do with that tool: we can create an economic engine.
12:03
Information should be free, and access to information should be free,
12:07
and we should be charging people for carbon.
12:10
I think this is a more powerful tool than the Interstate Highway Act,
12:14
and I think this is as important and world changing
12:17
to our economy as electrification.
12:19
And if I had my druthers,
12:21
we would have an open-source version in addition to open standards.
12:23
And this open-source version means that
12:27
it could be -- if we did a brilliant job of it --
12:32
it could be used around the world very quickly.
12:34
So, going back to one of my earlier thoughts.
12:39
Imagine if every one of these buses in Lagos was part of the mesh network.
12:43
When I went this morning to Larry Brilliant's TEDTalk prize
12:47
-- his fabulous networks --
12:52
imagine if there was an open-source
12:54
mesh communications device that can be put into those networks,
12:56
to make all that happen.
12:59
And we can be doing it if we could just get over the fact that
13:01
this little slice of things is going to be for free.
13:05
We could make billions of dollars on top of it,
13:07
but this one particular slice of communications needs to be open source.
13:10
So, let's take control of this nightmare:
13:15
implement a gas tax immediately;
13:18
transition across the nation to road-tolling with this wireless mesh;
13:21
require that the mesh be open to all, with open standards;
13:26
and, of course, use mesh networks.
13:30
Thank you. (Applause)
13:31

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About the speaker:

Robin Chase - Transport networker
With Zipcar, Robin Chase introduced car-crazy America to the concept of non-ownership. Now she's flipping that model with Buzzcar, which lets you rent your own auto to your neighbors.

Why you should listen

If she weren't a proven entrepreneur, you might imagine Robin Chase as a transportation geek, a dedicated civil servant, endlessly refining computer models of freeway traffic. If she weren't such a green-conscious problem-solver, you might take her for a startup whiz. Case in point: In 2000, Chase focused her MIT business training on a car-sharing scheme imported from Europe and co-founded Zipcar, now the largest car-sharing business in the world. Using a wireless key, location awareness and Internet billing, members pick up Zipcars at myriad locations anytime they want one.

Now Chase has launched Buzzcar, a car-sharing service in France with a twist: instead of a fleet of green Zipcars, the service lets users share their own cars and make money off their unused capacity. Call it peer-to-peer auto rental.

Read this insightful interview with Chase about starting a business and raising kids (including a supermodel).

More profile about the speaker
Robin Chase | Speaker | TED.com