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Online concept to help parents share the school drop off


If this morning’s school drop off was as frustrating as usual – whether you were a part of it or just affected by it – Sean Burke may be the man to talk with.

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He’s put forward a proposal to the State Government to trial the development of online carpooling systems that would help parents share the transport load and reduce the number of cars congregating at school gates during the week or sports facilities on weekends.

The concept already exists. myCarpools, the Adelaide company of which Burke is chief technical officer, has been creating dedicated websites for the past 10 years, mainly for Australian universities and hospitals where there are large groups of people travelling from different parts of the city and competing for limited parking.

For almost that long he and his colleagues have felt there is enormous potential in creating similar websites for schools and they now want to showcase the idea both to schools and to potential sponsors.

That’s the basis of the myCarpools entry for the Government’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur prize, which aims to generate ideas that will help Adelaide become the world’s first carbon neutral city. It is one of 11 finalists who have won $10,000 to help develop their concept.

“We see schools as a good place to start encouraging behavioural change as well as to actually reduce the number of cars on the road and the number of hours each week that individual parents have to spend driving their children around,” Burke said.

“The timing seems right because congestion is becoming more of a problem, more children live further from schools than they used to, and people are more comfortable with doing things online.”

Burke is conscious that there are greater sensitivities around arranging rides for children than for adults, but says the system is just about setting up meetings rather than making arrangements.

“Normally the only way you discover that another child in the school or the cricket team lives just around the corner is if you strike up a conversation with the parents while at the school or watching the game and you’re unlikely to go around actively asking people,” he said.

“This is a way of getting things started. You can discover if there are other parents living nearby who may be interested in carpooling and decide whether to take it any further.”

Previous versions of the system attempted to provide greater detail, such as mapping out routes that people took to get from A to B, but that became “a bit like herding cats” so they decided to keep things simple.

myCarpools sets up each site then charges a small fee to host it and ensure the technology stays up to date. Burke believes sponsorship would reduce the risk of even a limited cost being a factor in schools not getting involved.

The intention would be set up a system for an individual school, but there is nothing to stop neighbouring schools – for example, those based in the CBD – from sharing a site to expand the reach and potential.

Burke said that although motoring groups suggested just a 5% reduction in vehicle numbers on the road could double the traffic speed at peak hour, carpooling still was not as widely used as it could be.

“It tends to go in phases but in Australia there’s not much infrastructure support for it,” he said. “Large cities in the US have carpooling lanes that allow you to get through the traffic much more quickly and that really provides an incentive.”

MyCarPool and 10 other finalists will be in Adelaide this week as part of the Adelaide to Zero Carbon Challenge Design Week. The week includes a free live demonstration day from 11am-2pm tomorrow where the public can meet the finalist teams to learn more about their projects in the lead up to their public pitches and the winners announcement on Friday 21 October.

Solstice Media has partnered with the South Australian Government to provide information about the transition to a low-carbon economy. Read more stories like this here.



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