Toronto traffic hackathon winners create ' of ridesharing' to fight congestion

Traffic congestion in the city is a constant headache that seems to be without a cure, but a team of Toronto engineers has come up with one winning solution-- an app they're calling the " of ridesharing."

Hover will connect commuters based on their common in-car preferences

Hackathon winners come up with carpooling app to fight traffic congestion

6 years ago
Duration 1:27
'Hover' wins the [D]Congestant Hackathon, a brainstorming event sponsored by CBC Toronto.

Traffic congestion in the city is a constant headache for commuters that seems to have no end, but a team of Toronto engineers has come up with one winning solution — an app they're calling the " of ridesharing." 

The engineering team took home first prize at [D]Congestant, a weekend-long hackathon sponsored by CBC Toronto that kicked off last Friday, bringing together dozens of creative minds to come up with new tech-based ways to ease the city's traffic woes.

Team leader Max Howarth says his team believes carpooling is the way of the future, but says many commuters are often deterred by the awkwardness that can come with sharing a ride with strangers.

Their app, Hover, aims to break down those barriers and connect people with like-minded commuters. 

The winners of the [D]Congestant Hackathon (from left to right: Kevin Zhu, Max Shuxin Wei, Max Howarth and Malik Ismail)

"The first two things you do when you get in your car are you set the radio and the temperature of your car," said 24-year-old Howarth. "Commuters, we've found, don't want to carpool because they don't want to compromise their in-car experience or risk having a really poor one." 

Hover aims to change all that by matching drivers and passengers based on their common in-car preferences, including favourite music and radio stations and preferred car temperature. 

Users will also be able to search by gender, occupation and even the type of car the driver has and they'll also be able to pre-pay for each ride, similar to ride hailing app Uber, sparing passengers and drivers from dealing with complicated transactions.

While the Hover app shares some similar features with Uber, Howarth says the service won't be the same. 

'Long-term commuter relationships'

"We're trying to foster something more personal than a driver and a passenger in a service-based relationship, which is kind of what happens when you're in an Uber," Howarth said. Hover will aim to create long-term commuter relationships that will last throughout the year.

"Right now, four out of every five carpooling groups formed online fall apart," Howarth added, referring to results from a survey taken by Metrolinx's Smart Commute program. 

"We think that's because no other service today takes any of these factors into account and that's what makes Hover so special." 

As the team with the winning idea, the Hover group will receive a prize of $5,000, a chance to work with Cisco, PwC and the mayor's office, a round-trip Porter flight for each of the team's five members, five memberships to the Centre for Social Innovation and $100 in Uber credits. 

The Hover team claimed first prize at the weekend-long [D]Congestion hackathon.

Howarth, who recently graduated with an engineering degree from Queen's University and is now working as a mobile-phone consultant, says he was personally inspired to help solve Toronto's congestion problems after watching his own father spend hours each day stuck in rush hour traffic. 

"One day, I remember, I did the math with him and we figured out he was spending almost 5 hours a day on the road because of traffic," Howarth said.

"It's something that I've never really forgotten about, how much time he used to spend in the car going to and from work and it's become a subconscious goal of mine to never have to do what he did to get to work."

Howarth now lives walking-distance from his own job at a tech company, but he says he's experienced the nightmare of the rush-hour commute in the past.

"Traffic is rough," Howarth said. "I don't think there's anybody who really likes being stuck in traffic." But with fewer cars on the road thanks to carpooling and a more enjoyable ride, Howarth says the daily commute could be made more bearable. 

The team is already getting to work on bringing the Hover app to fruition, hoping to release a prototype by the end of the year. 


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