“Damn,” said I, “I’ll just hitchhike on that highway . . .”
Jack Kerouac, “Good Blonde”
“I hitchhiked to New York. Please, do not put me in any category with fucking Kerouac.” Dan Fante, Interview
When talking about hitchhiking, some of us think about summer holidays, travelling with a backpack, a few friends, little money, hitting the road and living an adventure. Others might recall Jack Kerouac, and his bohemian lifestyle, in which hitchhiking was part of his rebellion against society. For the more mundane ones, hitchhiking is a last resort when things go wrong and a lift is desperately needed. To sum up, unless you are Kerouac, probably hitchhiking is not something you do systematically. Rather, it is either a backup plan, or the main plan, but only for a circumscribed period.
This changes with Letzgo, a brand new Italian app for hitchhikers 2.0. Letzgo was launched a few weeks ago, and is currently operative only in Milan. If things go well, the developers want to extend it to other Italian cities and also internationally. How does it work? Conceptually, Letzgo is similar to BlaBlaCar. Indeed, users carpool, i.e. travel together sharing a car. The difference with BlaBlaCar is the kind of trip users do. Ideally, Letzgo users will carpool to travel short distances, within the city, while generally carpooling is for longer distances. To put it differently, while BlaBlaCar competes against trains, planes and “traditional” cars, Letzgo competes against urban public transportation, like buses, metros and trams.
Let’s see the app more closely: in the first place, users have to register on the platform, specifying if they are interested in being just passengers or drivers as well.
Then, hitchhikers insert starting and arrival points, the number of people who need a lift (you know, it would be nice for a driver to know how many people he will have to drive around) and then the app signals the request to the drivers nearby. If a driver is available, the hitchhiker can control his profile on the app, and then decide if accepting or not the lift. At the end of the travel, the driver can be rated, and the passenger can contribute to the travel expenses (which are calculated by the app), but he is not forced to do so.
It is interesting to point out the great attention reserved to safety issues. For instance, drivers have to send a copy of a driving license (obtained at least one year before), together with a proof that the car has insurance. In addition, before jumping on a car, passengers can share their travel, or send email/sms to friends. Moreover, if a driver or passenger constantly receives bad feedback, he can be expelled from the community forever.
Hitchhiking 2.0 is an interesting phenomenon: generally, a problem Internet users face is asymmetry/lack of knowledge between parties: you never know who hides behind the screen. So, online retailers build strong brand images and/or rely on third party assurance sails to signal their reliability to customers (Özpolat, K., et al., 2013). Interestingly enough, in the case of hitchhiking the lack of information is a pervasive phenomenon, because it does not affect only its virtual form (such as in Letzgo), but also the actual, traditional one: you never know who hides behind the wheel, after all (could be this guy). Yet, using the aforementioned measures, Letzgo reduces both drivers’ and hitchhikers’ uncertainties towards each other. In other words, thanks to its rules and its community, for once the digital world offers a safer environment for all the parties involved than the “classic” real world counterpart.
Knowing the guy, for sure Kerouac would not approve hitchhiking 2.0. But you don’t need to mind him; just remember, if you swing by Milan, there’s no need to raise your thumb to ask for a lift; on the contrary, you just have to lower it, and push it on your smartphone’s screen.
- Özpolat, Koray, et al. “Research Note-The Value of Third-Party Assurance Seals in Online Retailing: An Empirical Investigation.” Information Systems Research 24.4 (2013): 1100- 1111.