Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

Stereo systems for bikes

I’ve often wondered why bikes can’t have stereos. One of the great joys of driving your own car is being able to listen to your own music, even at high volume. But the only way to do that on a bike is headphones- which are dangerous due to traffic- or boomboxes attached to the bike – which may annoy passersby.

This is a neat version of the latter but obviously not especially practical. Here are some slightly better versions but they are still far from your ears so would need to be loud with low sound quality and high neighbor disturbance.

I think there’s still room for more innovation in “bike stereo systems” that allows me to listen to music without it being dangerous and without annoying everyone else around me.

Tunebug seems like it might fit the bill by putting the music near my ears but not in my ears. Probably requires wearing a helmet though and if you are wearing one you probably already feel unsafe and may not want to reduce your safety further. But this seems to be the right direction.

Anyone know of any others?

Semi-formalism: a new global agenda for “development”?

As you may have noticed, I have been offline on this blog for the past few months. Needless to say, my thinking has been shifting quite considerably on where I see the future of transportation heading and the role of the bicycle within it as a piece of a broader system- not the end objective of a “sustainable” city. I still love my bike, but I’ve been becoming increasingly interested in developments in shared vehicles, multi-modalism and the idea of “mobility as a service”.

I’ve moved to San Francisco and started digging into these issues in some specific startup projects which will be unveiled over time, though one can be viewed in a recent New York Times write-up.

This blog will likely take a new shape (and perhaps a new name) to reflect these changes. In the meantime, here is grand theoretical musing for your reading pleasure to get a sense of where my head is these days. Looking forward to feedback on what is still a somewhat nascent idea.


“Semi-formal” systems should be the new model for global development.

Generally, I see the global north being “too” formal in its development. Formalization can improve health and well being, and reduce societal risks (eg, traffic rules). However, it can also be far too rigid and slow moving and restricts innovation, possibilities and potentialities that do not meet all regulations.

The global south is “too” informal. Excessive informality can lead to corruption, safety and health issues, lack of consumer rights, etc. The north’s development efforts (and funding) largely go to formalization of the south under the premises of “modernization” and “progress” with the north presumed as the zenith. This doesn’t always work for lots of reasons (cultural, political, etc.).

For instance, an experiment in Phnom Penh to put in a bus line failed. Why ride on this thing that only leaves once every 15 minutes and gives a fixed route? Why bother when I can hop on the back of anyone’s motorcycle taxi and go anywhere anytime?

In Bangkok, however, they have what I see as the trappings of a semi-formal system. It’s easy to become a moto taxi but you need to register and get a license, have a helmet for passengers, and wear a special yellow jacket. It’s not as regulated as say the NYC taxi system while still providing some level of protection for consumers. Minibusses and shared cabs, when somewhat regulated, could also provide a semi-formal transport mode which provide the benefits of a flexible system with the safety regulations of a formal system. And why don’t we have any of these systems in more “developed” countries?

What I think we are starting to see (rideshare, carshare, bikeshare, collaborative consumption, etc.) is a move toward a new form of development, a new concept. In my more radical theorizing, we are even moving beyond capitalism. Our means of exchange are in flux, borrowing from older concepts (trade/barter/share) but advanced by some of the securities of new technologies (trust/reputation/accountability).

We will start seeing new monetary systems developed (eg, bitcoin) and new funding mechanisms that are more grassroots and peer-to-peer (eg, kiva, kickstarter). There will be more “money” than ever before in the new economy. We are living in the times of economic deprivation by comparison.

I think the north is becoming less formal as an economic system, particularly as we continue into our fourth year of economic “downturn” with no upturn in sight. What we should be setting as a new target for development globally is something less formal than the north, while more formal than the south. The north should stop presuming it has all the answers and start learning from the south. The south should be reflecting on its own context and develop solutions that grow out of its own needs.

My proposition is that semi-formality should be the new target to be met, putting north and south on equitable terms toward a common, more sustainable global pursuit, hybridizing the best of formal and informal systems. Specific solutions can draw on other models globally for inspiration but should be refined and rethought – perhaps even radically – to be locally and contextually relevant. Collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer carsharing, bikesharing, and ridesharing particularly, are just instances of a much larger trend that I see in the horizon.

Let us build toward this convergence toward a common global aim. The lines between public and private transport will blur. The lines between modern and old fashioned will blur. The future will be better. The future will be semi-formal.

ride to work on a summer day

one question which had been asked to me often on my way to work.

how do you manage to pedal to work on a hot summer day?

the question has two parts to it
firstly. it’s so hot and sunny, don’t you feel sick while pedalling?
secondly. inbetween the lines it says don’t you stink after that?

well, most of it is manageable. it’s about how you plan your daily voyage.

while riding to work i wear one of the tshirts made with dryfit fabric by nike, other sports brands have there own version for the same adidas has climacool. these are perforated fabrics, which let air pass through them eventually acting like a desert cooler, where i think our own sweat acts like a coolant. where shorts or detachable cargoes, i even wear jeans. more importantly one should make sure that she/he carries along a change for the upper part of the body.

we generally find it hot even in the morning on a summer day as our car acts like a green house and traps inside all the heat, on top of that the wind screen will be blocking the wind (that’s it’s job so let it do it well). now when we ride our bike we can feel the breeze and the sun is not so high and hot in the morning either. wind will be passing through the pores of the fabric and keep our body cool. make sure you wear your sunglasses, they look good and act really good.

carry a small towel even a 6″x6″ will do, it can be easily tucked inside the laptop bag (as in my case). now this little towel does the wonder.

once in office rush to the loo > carry you spare t-shirt or shirt > take off the sweaty one > wet the towel > dab your torso with the wet towel > leaves you fresh and odour free > spray some deo if you have or just let it be > don’t forget to wear the fresh clothes > make sure you wash the towel once again and may pack it inside a plastic bag.

try it out, it’s really easy to ride to work without feeling guilty about making life miserable for people who sit next to you.