In the fast-paced world we live in, coupled with the increasing fuel costs, carpooling is a realistic, economical and sustainable travel alternative to driving around in a car.

A new carpooling app has been developed by Auckland's Unitec Institute of Technology students. Called Uniwaka, the free app lets a student or staff member of Unitec connect with their Unitec whanau and share rides when it suits them.

Indian Weekender spoke to Dr Cristiaan de Groot, Senior Academic Leader, School of Creative Industries, Unitec, to give us the lowdown on the app.

“Uniwaka is an app that helps people find a driver or rider on their path to Unitec. It's a little bit like the old way of sharing a ride to work or school. But now with an app to help people find that match,” says Groot.

So, how did this whole idea about having an app that will connect students or staff with each other came about?

“The motivation initially came from my colleague, Maya, who's the sustainability manager at Unitec. She said, ‘Cris, too many people are driving into Unitec campus, and we're making too much carbon dioxide. Even the car parks can't fit everybody. How can we be a greener polytechnic?’ And then, I thought maybe we could make our version of an app that helps people share their car journeys. And maybe we can cut that carbon dioxide by half or more,” recollects Groot.

Interestingly, the journey of Uniwaka began about three years ago when a few design students came up with a basic idea. Giving more detail, a proud Groot says, “Around three years back after we came up with a basic plan, my design students started working on giving it some shape and thinking like what screens would people go through to find a match on their way. And then, later, after a year or so, we also got coding done by some computer science students and eventually, they were able to make it and pull it together. And since then, we've been testing it. We've done one round of user testing in the flesh. And it raised some bugs, so we’re fixing those. And then hopefully, in about two to three weeks, we will go live.”

There is also an Indian connection to this app because when the app was being designed, there were Indian students involved. “There was an Indian student in my design team who helped come up with the name and a logo. And also, in the first computing team, there was an Indian student. It was good to work with students from different nationalities and cultures as they brought different ways of thinking about what's normal when it comes to ride-sharing. They brought those perspectives to the project. And that helped because without that, it would have ended up being another taxi service like Uber,” says Groot.

 

 

The app lets you feed in the day/time you want to reach Unitec, and it shows you the people who are driving already near you, or they go past near where you live. You can even select if there are more than 2-3 drivers on that route. And if you're a woman, and you don't want to ride in a car with a man, you can push a special button that says, ‘I only want to see other women passengers or drivers.’

Since there are many carpooling apps already on the market, what makes Uniwaka different? “We did look at things like Uber, Zoomy and Ola before we started working on Uniwaka. But our app is different because no one's getting paid. When you use Uber, you say I want to go somewhere. I don't want to go now. But with our app, it is like, ‘hey, I want to go at this time to Unitec. Can you give me a lift on your way? You have to give 24 hours’ notice at least. So it's much more social and brings back these things about social relationships,” he explains.

Since there is no payment involved, the app leaves it to individuals to decide how they want to work out the money side. “Now, if you give me a ride to Unitec, you might say, hey, do you mind helping me out with the petrol cost? Can you give me a cohort? And I'll say, yes, sure. What do you think about $1, $3 $5? Our app leaves that up to the people to figure out. But you can't say, hey, I want to ride now. Since it is between people who work and study in the same place, a day's notice is needed," says Groot.

Lastly, talking about the future of apps like Uniwaka, Groot says, “Since it is a free kind of platform, I see it working  long term is in businesses or the colleges, or the universities or the or the maybe even the downtown districts have different towns and cities who might use the idea like this as it reduces the number of cars that carbon dioxide and also connects people.”