Upshift: Zipcar meets car leasing

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging very actively on this site for awhile. That’s because I’ve because been working hard at reinventing the future of carsharing. I’ve moved to San Francisco where I am developing a new carshare model to give recurrent but infrequent urban drivers more affordable, convenient access to a vehicle when they need it.

So why carshare? What happened to bikes? The data for modal shift from cars to, well, all things non-car is just fantastic- arguably better than for bikes. 9-13 cars are taken off the road for every carshare vehicle placed on the road. 47% less driving from members in a carshare service.

Getting people on bikes (and transit) by giving them a car seems counter intuitive, but unless you get people to let go of the steering wheel, it’s very difficult to convince them to do anything else. It’s too cheap and easy to just keep driving for most people. Once they do let go, they are much more open to investigating alternatives like a bicycle.

Carshare needs a new model to help it scale out of its current niche market and throw a huge monkey wrench in the car culture machine. That’s what we are working on reinventing at Upshift. Signup on our landing page at to stay abreast of our developments. You can also ping me at ezra [at] upshiftcars [dot] com to learn more.


Will the future be “fast” or “slow”?

This article is a response to John Whitelegg’s post on WorldStreets this morning. He quotes at length from a great article written in 1933 articulating how speed and time savings with new transportation infrastructure and technology often isn’t either. I would tend to agree. In fact, it often leads to things being farther apart and the time savings being pushed off into lost time for other road users. What I want to know though is how we can build “slow” communities where everything is in close proximity in the face of high housing costs, the need for space for families, income disparities, and how to deal with the technological innovation on the horizon.

Building walkable/bikeable/transit oriented cities is great but often makes the neighborhood unaffordable. The flip side of this is that, at least in the US, people’s demands on acceptable space for raising a family are quite large as is their tolerance for traffic. Couple these two with people’s desire to be “not too far” from the city and nature and you can see the popularity of suburbs. The city still cannot compete for many. Even if desirable (not a given), it is unaffordable given the spatial “requirements” people have.

Perhaps we are starting to see a change of attitude (lead by the wealthy and educated who can afford it) to try to raise kids in the city, however many of them still move out once children hit school age. And this is really only a possibility in cities like San Francisco for highly paid, double income families. If you are in a smaller city like Pittsburgh or Cleveland, perhaps it’s a bit easier.

I also think that the bicycle is not a paragon of “slowness”. We should quickly do away with this idea. The bicycle is, in fact, a technology that enables greater speed in a competitive landscape where the alternatives are congested traffic and disaggregated transit corridors over short distances. I think the reason people are bicycling is probably more evidence of a failed transportation system and an indicator that further significant innovation is required to develop transportation that makes sense in dense urban settings. I bike for much the same people drive cars: it’s faster, easier, and more convenient than the alternatives presented to me. It’s just that I have geared my life in such a way that everything I need is biking distance (eg, proximate). I think that people’s choices in the future once they have better ones will still be primarily about speed and convenience.

I have two big concerns though.

First, I am worried that cities will become gated “sustainable” communities for the elite who can afford the luxury of a short, bikeable/bussable/walkable commute and the poor will be stuck driving the elites’ old gas guzzlers long distances. Will they be the ones paying congestion charging and high parking fees to clean the luxury urban condos of the wealthy. Or will they just stay out of the urban core entirely because it’s too expensive? Proximity is a luxury good.

Second, the technological innovation happening right now is unprecedented since Detroit 100 years ago when it comes to materials, vehicle architecture, energy, wireless connectivity, ownership and usage, etc. Silicon Valley and Paris (and parts of southern Germany) are rapidly becoming the new US and EU Detroits where new models are being explored. Presumably there are hubs in India, China, Brazil etc. but I am less familiar with them outside of Bangalore perhaps. Bicycles, motorcycles and cars are being ripped apart and refashioned into whole cloth new vehicles in much the same way that cars and motorcycles were developed. The “car” is not long for this world in its present conception. Major innovations like self-driving vehicles and wireless mesh networking promise ever greater speed, safety and convenience but possibly at the cost of even greater distances and privacy. Even more worrying, is that this discussion- or awareness- is completely absent from the broader urban planning conversations.

In other words, I think the middle class future will continue to be faster and farther away. The “slower” versions with everything in easy proximity will likely be a luxury good for the wealthy (combined, of course, with easy access to the nearest international airport), or all that the poorest citizens can afford.

very interesting design idea for bikers

often people are not too comfortable carrying helmet the around. here comes a solution for the same. found the design very insightful. hope someone picks it up and starts manufacturing the same for masses.

Levi’s jeans made for bicycling

I went to the store to buy some pants today (yes, I know, black Friday and all but I really needed some pants). I was surprised to see that Levi’s is now selling bicycle “commuter” jeans that are water resistant, have extra sewing on the inseam for ruggedization, stretch fabric, a “utility” waistbelt to carry a U-lock, antimicrobial protection against odors, and when you turn up the cuff, they have a reflector sewn in. Kudos, Levi’s! Unfortunately, I didn’t like them as much as the pair I ended up buying but I’m glad they are available. Clearly designed with the Mission/Williamsburg hipster crowd in mind.

Song of Joy

Having spent most of my life in progressive cities or atleast cities which think they are progressive. These cities fight hard to break away from the old ways. whether it’s food or clothing or mode of transport. They believe in killing the old.

So home cooked food takes a backstage when kids want to go out and have food at MacDonald’s. The traditional Indian dresses have long been gone and replaced by Denims and Tees. Similarly bicycles are no more trendy, motorbikes and cars are the way of life.

Specially last 15-20 years have seen too drastic a change. We often refer it to as the Mobile Generation the “mobile” coming from the Mobile Phones. Alongwith these attitudes a lot gets lost without realisation everything happens bit by bit. A person realises only when one sits in the time machine and goes back a few decades.

Well everybody is not as lucky as me.

YES. Recently I did a bit of TIME TRAVEL.

It was not so high-tech as it sounds. Infact Time Travel can be done in a much more LowTech manner. Recently I chanced upon to visit a place called Shantiniketan (West Bengal, India). A small sweet town better known for it’s red soil and it’s gifts to Literature & Art. Leave the centre of the town and you are in a world which runs on bicycles. Yes Sir, the main mode of transport in this town is not cars, not scooters but bicycles. that does not mean the city is full of prehistoric creatures. In contrast average people of this small town will be probably more “literate” than in the big progressive towns.

“Literate” may not mean they have attended school, but surely have learnt much more from people around them and the basic aura of the city.

It’s strange in India to expect a Rickshaw Puller to quote poetry which most of us school goers may not have heard about. Well I guess I am not wandering to far from our core that is the Bicycle. Just think of a city where there are no cars, which means no Big Cars vs Small Cars which leads to less social inequality. A Postman or A College Professor or An Architect when all of them ride similiar black bicycles they all look to be of the same social strata and they blend much better into each others life. Which leads to better sharing of knowledge. Hence a more literate society if not more educated.

Not just that i realised the pace of a bicycle is more conducive for a creative soul. A person is more relaxed and free to think on a bicycle than a car. Probably that makes Shantiniketan one of the creative hubs of the country.

This little town seems to be India. India, the way it was till the 60’s or 70’s. The way it was supposed to be. People lending a helping hand to his fellow citizen. Not running away by showing off how fast he is.

Over here people are less scared of honks and speeding cars. Which means they love singing a song to their fellow bikers as they ride along the red soiled earth.When was the last time any of us did it?

A moment which may haunt me for times to come. Even though I back from my Time Travel he haunts me. A Rickshaw Puller who pulled our rickshaw all the way to a river bank and then he sang a song of joy. A song written on the same river bank a couple of decades back by a famous poet of those days. Time hadn’t stopped. But still people in Shantiniketan sing their own Song of Joy.

One day you may chance upon a city like this while doing some Time Travel till then Sing a Song of Joy to your fellow cyclist.

All these pictures are from Shantiniketan and nearby villages.

Why is locking a bike harder than locking my car?

In Copenhagen, parking my bike is fantastic- at least from the cyclists’ perspective. No one locks their bike ‘to’ anything. They just roll up to their destination and flip the integrated lock on the back wheel. This can be a hassle for pedestrians, handicap, elderly and shop owners if it blocks the sidewalk, shop windows etc. so that is still an issue. But people pretty much just want to park as close as possible to their destination, preferably about less than 50meters/yards. If there are racks and they aren’t full in Copenhagen, people will usually use them. But if they are farther away or full then people generally won’t use them.

In the US, bikes are typically more expensive (more commonly designed for recreational use, though this is changing) and theft is higher. People want to lock their bikes to something. But there is often nothing to park to. So people park to meters or have to get more inventive.

Even if there is something to park to, you often end up scraping the paint off the bike, fighting with mis-sized pole/lock combos, pushing around other bikes attached to the same post, getting grease on your pants and hassling for a long time with your cable. And then what do you do with the helmet? Take it with you or lock it with your bike?

Let us imagine a comparable situation in a car. A person rolls into a parking space, only it’s not a ‘space’ it’s just some spot on the sidewalk wide enough for a car and there’s already another car next to it. There isn’t enough room for both really, so they have to get so close that they actually scratch the paint off a  door. The guy squirms out the passenger door and then spends the next minute crawling around on the ground trying to attach his front wheel to a parking meter with a chain so no one steals his tires. He gets dirt and grease and junk all over his professional clothing. It’s a bit farther than he thought though and the cable doesn’t reach so he has to move the car another foot, scratching up his car and the other car more. This whole time, people are watching and getting annoyed. He goes back in the car, takes out ‘the club’ and attaches it to his steering wheel. He then gets out of the car and locks the door. He walks off, exasperated. Pedestrians and grandmothers can’t walk down the sidewalk. The other guy comes back and gets pissed that he’s ‘parked in’ and the door is scratched. Plus the guy accidentally locked his wheel too.

Can someone make a rough approximation of this into a catchy video?


Here are some good ideas for bicycle locks.

trade in

I just traded in my old peugeot 205 for a bicycle one month ago.

It was somehow sad as I have literally spent thousands of hours inside of that car, about 2 hours in Madrid everyday and also during the holidays. It was my first and only one car for 14 years, a lot of memories!

I also had a bicycle in Madrid, I bought it to exercise but I used it 2 times in 4 years, not so many memories from that.

Then I moved from Madrid to Copenhagen, to start a new life. I did not know what to do with the car and the bicycle. I would not get that much money for any of them, so I decided to drive to Copenhagen and take the bicycle with me inside the car. The taxes for changing the plates are insane and I did not pretend to use the car in the “bicycle city”, so the plan was to get rid of the car once I hit Copenhagen. That would be its last trip.

So I did that, I drove for 3000 km in 12 days with all my stuff in my tiny car, jumping from country to country. I used the bicycle to move in every town I stopped by. It was great, the best way to get into towns from the nearby camp sites I used to sleep.

I started collecting memories from the new two-wheels version of my car.

There is a gradient across Europe and you can feel it when you travel like this. The gradient also affects the way people move in a town, so I was feeling more and more comfortable riding the bicycle as I got into France, Belgium, Germany and finally Denmark.

Now I am in Copenhagen. I ride the “spanish bicycle”everyday to go to work, as I used to drive the car in Madrid. The car is eventually gone. I do not miss it. I feel happy that the bicycle is now alive, and takes me everywhere in a silent, fast and stressless way. I simply could not do that in Madrid. Few people bike to move in the town there, they are lucky persons that live quite close to work and they have a lot of problems with the bicycle anyway. The air is so polluted that you don’t want to breath too deep in the middle of the cars.

Now I have to cross the lakes in Copenhagen with the bicycle everyday. They are beautiful and the feeling is great. I often stop to spend a few minutes on my way back home, breathing the cold air, admiring the sight. I cannot do that with the car when I cross my favorite spot: heading Gran Vía from Cibeles at sunset. I cannot just stop at the side, open the windows to breathe and relax. Someone would honk and jell at me if I stop for more than a second.

The difference is simply this one: your way to work and back home can be a stressful waste of time that makes you be mad during the rest of the day, or can be one of the best moments everyday. It is a huge difference.