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Promoting a Culture  of Caring and Sharing
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Promoting a Culture of Caring and Sharing

Air pollution in Tehran reached an all-time high in three years over the past two weeks – forcing authorities to take immediate action such as banning outdoor sport, closing  schools and nurseries, and imposing a city-wide odd-even vehicular restriction in the metropolis.
In such a situation, every person can and should play a part in alleviating the problem, in every little way they can.
Azadeh Kianpour, 29-year old software developer of 11 years, came up with an idea that if it catches on, could help promote the concept of carpooling, a practice that is popular in big cities in several cities in the world.
In an interview with the Financial Tribune, she talked about her website, ‘Chaparan’ that connects car owners who have spare seats, with passengers heading in the same direction. It basically provides the best intermediary for people to carpool.
Carpooling (also car-sharing, or ride-sharing), is the sharing of car journeys so that more than one person travels in a car. ‘Chaparan’ in Farsi is a plural of the word 'Chapar', referred to postmen in the ancient Achaemenid era who rode on chariots and switched horses at every designated mid-road stop.
"With aggravation of air pollution in Tehran, and the idea already in practice in other large cities abroad, I felt the palpable need for such a service in Iran,” says Kianpour.
Co-designed and implemented with her partner Kamyar Paykhan, also a software developer, the website provides car owners a slot to publish their seat availability for commuters taking the same routes at similar hours. This can save money, reduce congestion and cut air pollution while providing a convenient mode of transport at no cost since the ride is free.
How to use the service is easy; just sign up on the website for free, mark your route of commute on the map and add the date and time of your choice. Those interested will be able to contact you via the website. Whether or not to share more information is up to users, only an email is mandated to be provided. It also has the option of adding the type of car you have.
“The idea will promote the culture of carpooling, a brand new concept in Iran,” Kianpour says. "Primarily, because it's free, easy to use, and accessible on all Internet browsers, even on mobile phones.”
Tehran is one of the 10 largest cities in the world and authorities have been trying with little success to reduce the extreme traffic congestion that cause delays, wastage of time and acute health hazards from pollution. Measures to improve public transportation by expanding subways and the bus rapid transit (BRT) system, and efforts to reduce air pollution, congestion and pedestrian safety have all but failed.
Even the two low emission traffic zones (restricted zones based on vehicle registration number corresponding to odd or even days) and the restricted zone in the center of the capital, which is open only for public vehicles (buses, taxis and ambulances) or private ones that have an annual or daily passage permit, have not produced the desired results.
The number of cars that enter the city far exceeds the urban capacity despite the construction of new freeways, flyovers, bridges and tunnels over the past two decades. By 2011, there were 4.2 million cars on the streets of Tehran, most carrying only one passenger -- the driver. The number has now surpassed five million for a traffic system that can handle two million cars. And mind you everyday hundreds of new gas-guzzlers join the already saturated roads and alleys only to make a bad situation worse.
Nearly all developing countries face similar challenges. The burgeoning population caused by the massive urban influx has unleashed a car buying frenzy as successive governments have not been able to upgrade the much-needed public transport infrastructure in tandem with the increase in population. All of these factors have culminated in high traffic density till midnight.

Challenges
"The website is not for Tehran only. Since it makes use of Google Maps, people from all over the country can see its advantages," said Kianpour.
Following an update, Google Maps, the search engine giant’s internally developed mapping platform, has enabled a feature that shows traffic levels in Tehran and other major cities in Iran. Included in the traffic feature update are Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, Shiraz, Kerman, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Yazd and Rasht.
Yet there are challenges. To begin with, carpooling is yet not part of the Iranian transportation culture. Safety is also a primary concern. How can people be sure what kind of people they’re going to share the car with?
"Chaparan does not conduct driver background checks or provide insurance. But we're planning to introduce a rating system for drivers soon, which will help users in making decisions,” she says.
So far, the public reception of the website has been positive. "Within a week since it was launched, more than 100 confirmed users registered on the database."
Although new to Iranian commuters, giving rides to strangers is not only common in cities abroad, it basically constitutes a subculture. In Washington the practice is known as "slugging" or informal car pooling. Drivers pick up "slugs" so they can zip down carpool lanes on congested highways, while riders get a free ride.
The initiative has so far been to help bring about a cultural change in commuting, and the developers do not plan to charge users. "We might add other platforms and services to the website which may need funding, but so far, all available features are free."
The website has been mainly promoted via social networks and by word of mouth. Several Persian dailies including 'Sharq' also made a mention of it as air pollution peaked last week.
In the long term, the goal is to encourage carpooling as a mainstream transport alternative. "We want people to think of carpooling first when deciding how to get to work or even to run an everyday errand. We want them to consider Chaparan instead of wasting time standing in long queues for taxis or buses during the rush hours.”
Carpooling is a growing trend worldwide. It might not be the magic wand for traffic jams or air pollution, but it could be seen as a part of the solution.
The website address is http://chaparan.ir.

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