This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In recent years, economic, environmental and social forces have quickly given rise to the “sharing economy,” a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to share resources, save money and generate capital. Homesharing services, such as Airbnb, and ridesourcing services, such as Lyft and Uber, have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed the sharing economy from the fringe and into the mainstream. Major shared transportation modes—such as bikesharing, carsharing, ridesourcing and ridesharing—are changing how people travel and are having a transformative effect on cities across the Southern United States.
One form of shared mobility, ridesharing, facilitates formal or informal shared rides between drivers and passengers with similar origin-destination pairings. Due to the limited study of carpooling, the magnitude of ridesharing’s impacts is unclear as carpools are difficult for researchers to observe and record. While there are few published studies on the impacts of ridesharing, anecdotal evidence indicates that ridesharing provides numerous benefits, such as reductions in energy consumption and emissions, congestion mitigation, and reduced parking infrastructure demand. One recent study of casual carpooling that I conducted was based on a survey of 503 users in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that that the motivations for casual carpooling participation include convenience, time savings, and monetary savings, while environmental and community-based motivations ranked low. The study also found that 75 percent of casual carpool users were previously public transit riders, and over 10 percent formerly drove alone.
Known as ridesourcing, companies such as Lyft and Uber, provide pre-arranged on-demand transportation services for compensation by connecting drivers of personal vehicles with passengers. More recent studies have found that 67 percent (of 380 ridesourcing users) of trips were social or leisure in nature (such as trips to bars, restaurants and concerts or visits to friends or family) compared to only 16 percent that were work related. Researchers also found that if ridesourcing were unavailable, 39 percent of respondents said they would have taken a taxi, 33 percent would have taken public transportation, eight percent would have walked and six percent would have driven their own vehicles. Ninety-two percent said they still would have made their trip, if ridesourcing was unavailable.
As technology continues to evolve, innovative service models and the convergence of existing services is likely to occur. Relatively new services (Lyft Line and UberPOOL) employ ridesplitting, the blending for-hire ridesourcing services with pooling by pairing individuals with similar origins and destinations to offer ridesourcing-type services with the increased occupancy of pooled rides. In addition to ridesplitting services, a number of efforts have attempted to increase taxi sharing (also known as taxi splitting). One app, Bandwagon, allows users to “hail seats” using their mobile device, share taxis and split fares in New York City. Taxi sharing may contribute to shorter taxi lines, reduced wait times (when a user at the end of the line is paired with a passenger at the front of the line), and cost savings as associated with fare splitting.
Advancements in technology and improvements in mobile computing are changing shared ride services. New technologies are enabling the pooling of passengers and package deliveries, ridesplitting and taxi sharing. In the future, two key trends will continue to impact the future growth and evolution of shared ride services. First, the ongoing growth in smartphone applications will continue to reshape how drivers and passengers are matched, both simplifying ridematching and providing enhanced convenience. Second, the convergence of IT technology with emerging vehicle technologies (e.g., electric drive, connected and automated technology) will continue to impact the growth and evolution of shared ride services.
About the Authors:
Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a research engineer with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley. She is a member of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee to the U.S. Department of Transportation and chair of the subcommittee for Shared-Use Vehicle Public Transport Systems of the Transportation Research Board.
Adam Cohen is a shared mobility researcher at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley. Since joining the group in 2004, his research has focused on shared mobility and emerging technologies. He has co-authored numerous articles and reports on shared mobility in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. He has a master’s degree in city and regional planning and international affairs from Georgia Tech.