Hitchhiker’s guide to hitchhiking
I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast recently. Specifically, an episode about hitchhiking. They speculate about the various reasons that hitchhiking has largely gone away. It’s a great episode; check it out. But an important detail was brought up: many people drive around in mostly empty cars. That is, a typical car has capacity for 4 passengers, but only usually carries 1. This means that there’s a lot of wasted capacity.
On the day I write this, I am currently recovering from a medical issue that prevents me from driving. I’m sure there are many others in a similar situation: they have no car, no license, a medical condition, etc, that prevents them from driving themselves. Compare this to all the wasted capacity, and you have a market inefficiency (or a market opportunity, depending on how you look at it).
One of the problems with hitchhiking your person around is unreliability. Maybe I can hitch a ride to Chipotle, but will I be able to hitch back, all within a reasonable time? But what if my burrito could hitch a ride instead of me? There are many food delivery services in Columbus, but few are suitable or affordable for a single person’s meal. So, I posed my idea to Twitter.
I soon received a response that there’s a service called Zaarly, that could act very much like a service that I imagined. I placed a somewhat silly order: $10 to deliver me a Chipotle burrito. I say silly because Zaarly looks like a new service, has very few participants, not to mention I was asking for someone to deliver a burrito to me for about $3 in profit. However, if there were a critical mass of Zaarly users, then there’s gotta be at least one user already going to be driving near both a Chipotle and my house anyway, then the $3 is almost free money for someone with a mostly empty car. And this could work not just for food, but for anything that needs delivery: documents, groceries, anything. Or maybe there’s some sort of crediting that could (hypothetically) happen: you deliver to me today, and you’ll get one free delivery credit to use later, or something like that. This is similar to the concept of “slugging“, or ad-hoc carpooling, as mentioned in the Freakonomics podcast episode, except it’s stuff instead of people.
Realistically, Zaarly hasn’t reached this level of critical mass, at least not in Columbus. I shouldn’t have gotten my burrito. Some smart aleck placed a $40 bid to make this point.
Fortunately for me, the CEO of Zaarly Columbus decided to make his own point: that Zaarly is a business that cares about and needs customers (like me) to be successful, and he accepted and delivered my $10 Chipotle burrito offer. I’m not saying he’s going to be your personal Chipotle delivery man for $3 a pop (I tipped him a little more, by the way , but I’m saying in cities bursting with commuters (like Columbus), let’s put our wasted capacity to work, and start using Zaarly!