CurbTXT Turns Jerks Into Altruists
Some jerk parked their car in front of my driveway a few weeks ago. I had the car towed. Which made me a jerk, too, completing the cycle of awfulness.
Did it have to be this way? I needed to get my car out of my garage, it’s true, but while I was angry that the driveway was blocked, I really didn’t want to go all nuclear on the poor schmuck who had parked in my way. If there had been a way to reach the driver (and I did try knocking on nearby doors) I would have preferred to go that route. Having the car towed was a horrible punishment for what was likely just an oversight.
Three guys in a San Francisco neighborhood even more crowded than mine are working on a solution: CurbTXT. A small sticker on a user’s car informs others that the owner of the car is reachable through the SMS-based service, using the license plate as a unique identifier. The person sending the note, like “You’re blocking my driveway,” or, “Your meter is expired,” or, “Sorry to tell you someone broke into your car,” does not know the identify of the car owner, nor does the owner know the sender, unless the sender self-identifies in the note.
In other words, it brings the possibility of neighborliness into a situation where it hadn’t been possible before.
Great, right? But there’s a problem: Growth. Also: Business model.
Since launch, in September of 2012, the service has been used to send “dozens” of warning messages, cofounder Ian Sotzing told me. That’s not all too terrible for a service that was launched in one small neighborhood by guys trailing parking officers and sliding flyers under windshields next to parking tickets, but it’s not exactly a rocketship of scalability.
So when I was meeting with Ian, another cofounder, Alex Maxa, was meeting with people from the San Francisco board of supervisors, who, he later told me, were quite interested in the project. Alex tells me that the City doesn’t make revenue from towed cars (the towing company does), and that a service that made it possible to reach car owners before they are towed would be to everyone’s benefit (except the towing company). City support of CurbTXT would greatly help awareness and growth, and potentially provide a little revenue stream.
Our cars are weird havens of anonymity, but they don’t have to be quite so walled-off. A double-blind system that allows communication to car owners while still shielding identity looks like a good way to make cities more livable, by helping turn jerks back into human beings.
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