Sunday, April 19, 2009

If there was a well connected public transportation, I would have been home by now

I recently polled many of my friends about the pros and cons of living in Austin (many of them who moved to Austin from other cities). One of the biggest cons seems to be the terrible traffic in Austin during peak AM and PM.

Many of these people whom I polled have big, guzzling autos, two per family at least. You see what happens next. Hideous traffic. Building more freeways never solves just gives people more places to fill up with cars.

Based upon currently projected growth rates, the Austin area could become one of the most congested in the nation by 2025.

If you ride the bus, you waste a lot of time waiting hours when you need to go somewhere. You must be poor [paradoxical, considering the cost of a car] or stingy [paradoxical, considering the cost of gasoline].You have to ride in dumpy, old buses. You certainly can’t get a date. These are some of the false judgments people make about the small minority of Americans who still use public transit.

Ironically, politicians and planners make the same judgments. Like most Americans, they drive. They love transit, as long as somebody else is using it.

I come from a country with a population of a billion people, where public transportation is the biggest of mode of transport. Some of my best travel experiences have taken place inside crowded, non-air conditioned buses and trains with my fellow passengers. Every time I travel, I made a new friend by sharing a conversation with a local passenger. With public transportation, you save money, and you make a lot of friends. Plus you get to where-ever you want.

Apart from just saving the environment, public transportation could save the purse too. While actual costs vary from place to place and depending on fuel prices, after some analysis I’ve have some cost estimates due to driving. While multiplying the average cost per mile of 48.5 cents per mile (based on what IRS uses) by 2.9 tillion yearly vehicle miles traveled (VMT) estimate for 2008 in the US (source:, we get total yearly cost of driving to be approx. $1.4 trillion, which is about 10% of our 2008 US GDP (14.3 trillion). Sit back and think for a second: one of every 10 dollars in America is spent on driving. Should Americans be spending that much on transportation? Only 9% of total U.S. work trips use mass transit, compared to 38.8% in Europe.

Public transportation could take about twice as long as driving. Even so, it’s useful time: you can work on your laptop, watch a DVD, read a book, or sleep. Think about a public bus or train which provides WI-FI, in some cases even a small cafeteria kiosk (where you can get breakfast, snacks, coffee and sandwiches), magazine kiosks.

Even after the public transportation system is in-place, like in few American cities, people still use their cars. Worse thing is even couples going to the same work place don't seem to ride-share (I see that all the time at my work). Maybe cities in the US (which have good public transportation system in-place), should start charging fees (some roads have tolls which indirectly does the same thing) from people who don't use public transportation system. Cities like London charges a fee for some motorists travelling travelling within those parts of London designated as the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ).

Maybe the next time you take your car, you will pause for a second and at-least think about using your feet (you burn a few calories plus saved the planet and your purse).

(Image sources:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social networking - the next web 2.0

I still remember the day (sometime in 2004 or early 2005 when I was still in grad school) when my cousin sent me an email with a link to join facebook. I thought "yet another dating website scam- damn these sophomores are jobless" and I just ignored the email. At that time I had a profile at Orkut (which I still have) - a social network (owned by google) not so popular in the states (Orkut is very popular in India). After a year I joined facebook.

I was never a big fan of social networking. I joined linked-in when I graduated and started working and wanted to be connected to my colleagues at work. I joined facebook because I had a few friends in facebook around the time I joined and thought it would be really cool to have a presence in the online world, especially in facebook. As of today, I have a twitter, facebook, orkut, myspace, linkedIn, ning accounts. I joined twitter a couple of months ago when I first heard about it at a austin local meetup. I actively use only my twitter and facebook these days and login to my linked-in to add new connections.

In a world where emails, phone numbers, physical addresses are subject to change, social networking websites are a good place to keep connected.

I recently heard from a serial entrepreneur that if he wants to hire or interview someone, he would certainly check their profile, connections, references in linked-in and then their social life in facebook/twitter.

Among the social networking sites, one of the reasons facebook has grown rapidly in such short span is because of user-created applications (just like how iphone has become very popular because of the apps), Even after you join facebook, there are lots of things you can do and not just write on a wall or scrap (which was the only thing you could do at orkut). You can share photos, tag photos, take surveys (although I Still think certain surverys are so lame). LinkedIn, MySpace or Orkut serves merely to connect people. Twitter grew because of the niche value its offering.

The final question that ponders me is how do sites like facebook/twitter get venture funding and whether they really have a business and revenue model. All these sites are trying to do right now is attract more users. Maybe, at somepoint people will become so dependent on them. At that time these sites will figure out a way to make money (acquisition probably?). Remember, When google started, they did not have a business model other than allowing other websites to use their search feature. Can anyone imagine a day without google these days? Maybe facebook and twitter are trying to follow the footsteps of google.

Now some facts about social networking:
- Thirty-five percent of US Web users aged 18 or older have a profile on a social network such as Facebook. This number has grown from a mere eight percent in 2005.
- In general, it seems the number of adults who use social networks declines with age
- Seventy-five percent of online Americans aged 18 to 24 years old belong to a social network; 57 percent of those aged 25 to 34; 30 percent of those aged 35 to 44; 19 percent of those aged 45 to 54; 10 percent of those aged 55 to 64 and just seven percent of those aged 65 and older.
- Sixty-five percent of online Americans aged 12 to 17 years old use social networks.
- Fifty percent of adult social network users have a profile on MySpace, the survey found, while 22 percent have a profile on Facebook, six percent have a profile on LinkedIn.
- Eighty-nine percent of the adult Web users surveyed said they use their online profiles to keep up with friends, 57 percent said they use them to make plans with friends and 49 percent said they use them to make new friends.