Uber and Lyft bill themselves as ride-sharing services. But when you get down to it, they are really taxi apps because drivers make trips that they would not otherwise be making in exchange for a fee. For that reason, many have argued that we shouldn't even consider them part of the sharing economy.
"What transportation really needs is real-time ride-sharing," says Matan Field, who co-founded La'Zooz, a platform that aims to offer just that.
The "real-time" part of real-time ride-sharing means that people find cars on the go, with no prior planning. The "sharing" part means that drivers aren't doing it as part of a commercial enterprise, a la Uber.
"Real-time ride-sharing can solve congestion and reduce rush hour traffic by decreasing the number of cars on the road," he says. "Uber's strategy is actually increasing the number of cars on the road because there are more people driving around looking for riders, just like taxis."
The holy grail of ride-sharing is being able to see at any given moment who is already making the same trip you would like to make. With that information and a platform capable of it, drivers with spare seats can find would-be riders willing to pay for a portion of their trip.
It's a win-win, says Field. "For riders it will be as cheap as a bus and as convenient as a taxi, while drivers save a large fraction of the cost of their commute."
The obstacle is getting a critical mass of people in any one location on the same platform at the same time. Previous attempts at real-time ride-sharing have failed for that reason. Other services, thinking it's not possible to achieve, have made compromises on the concept.
"One way to lower the threshold is to make it not real-time, which is what Bla-Bla Car does," says Field. "Another solution is to make the rides commercial, which is what Uber does. But no one has solved real-time ride-sharing in a way that maximizes the occupancy of cars already on the road."
La'Zooz's solution to that problem is surprising: Bitcoin. Specifically, La'Zooz is built on top of Bitcoin's blockchain technology, which makes it so that the platform is completely decentralized and owned by everyone who uses it. Just like Bitcoin has no central bank, La'Zooz belongs to no single company that skims profit off the top.
Instead, the platform's "fair share" algorithm awards Zooz—the platform's currency— to people based on how much they contribute to improving the system. Even La'Zooz's three co-founders don't hold any special stake in the platform other than having contributed much of the labor to building it.
"We know that to make this work we need to have 100,000 [people] open the app at the same time in the same place," says Field. "And then we realized: Why we don't we make just make those 100,000 people partners of the project?"
By making La'Zooz fully decentralized, the team is building a network that is owned by the people who actually use the platform.
"We don't distinguish users from participants. Anyone who contributes to the network is rewarded with Zooz tokens," says Field.
La'Zooz is still currently in the "mining" stage, where participants in the project earn Zooz tokens simply by driving around with the app open. Once there is a critical mass of participants, the La'Zooz team will open up the ride sharing functionality to be used.