Momentum: Issue #14

March 4, 2019


I.  Introduction

The great mantra in the mobility field, at conferences and elsewhere, is “autonomous, connected, electric and shared.”  While significant technology advancements and private investments suggest that autonomous, connected, and electric technologies will continue to advance, there is still a high level of abstraction with regard to how, as a society, we will move toward more shared mobility.

For the past few decades, our cities have seen dramatic increases in population growth and, consequently, traffic and congestion. Today, more than 75 percent of people commute to work alone, which translates to more than 115 million vehicles transporting one person. Additionally, there was a 2.5 percent increase over the last decade in the number of people who said they had access to three or more vehicles (Source: 2016 American Community Survey, or ACS). The ACS found that only nine percent of workers carpool and five percent commute by public transit.  Once fully autonomous vehicles become a reality, there is significant concern that there will be an increase in the number of single occupancy vehicles on the road, but also add a new concern: zero occupancy vehicles. Various studies estimate that vehicle miles travelled could increase by as much as 30 percent.

Contrary to some popular belief, shared use is not going to simply happen because of technology or other developments.  Many of today’s cited obstacles related to shared use mobility are due to factors like convenience, stranger danger, reliability, and accessibility. This article is meant to dive more deeply into these challenges and to propose several solutions – that are relevant today and in our future autonomous, connected, and electric world.  

II. Defining the Problem

The terms “sharing rides” or “ride sharing” refer to any form of transportation involving more than one person traveling to the same destination or in a similar direction. Examples include public transit buses or trains, carpooling, vanpooling, UberPool, and LyftLine; it does not include ridehailing services, like Uber and Lyft. As stated in the Association for Commuter Transportation’s “Defining Ridershare” memo, “traditional ridesharing is not a for-hire commercial service. Riders do not hail a carpool or a vanpool, and drivers do not profit as they do with a taxi or as they do with transportation network companies.” That said, Uber and Lyft can still positively impact our mobility society by reducing car ownership and parking requirements.  Additionally, sharing vehicles (if not rides) may also be conducive to a “sharing ethic” that ultimately encourages ridesharing as well.  Therefore, sharing can be seen as a continuum. 

Note: This article does not discuss the relationship between land use and ride sharing.   The connection between the two is important but due to the variety and complexity of other issues, the authors have decided to leave this issue for another day.

III. Discussion of key obstacles

Despite the benefits that ridesharing can have for society, the majority of people are not considering it. The following outlines the key reasons for this behavior.

A.     Reliability/availability of shared rides

“The bus doesn’t serve my destination” or “The bus doesn’t come frequently enough.”

“Lyft Line and Uberpool are not available in my area” or “They go too far out of my way”

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find a carpool partner.”

All of these complaints are based on a lack of convenience, availability, or reliability of a shared ride. And, in fact, most, if not all, of these hurdles would need to be addressed before someone would ever choose to forego driving their own vehicle.  Currently, the reliability and availability of shared rides can vary tremendously from location to location and time to time.  Finding a shared ride (via any form) can vary from mere seconds during business hours to minutes or even hours depending on one’s location and time. 

B.         Time, Convenience, and Cost 

“I could drive to work in half the time it takes to take transit.”

“I would have to transfer twice to be able to get from my house to my job; I’d much rather drive!”

“I already bought my car, so why would I pay for another service?” 

One of the key drivers of how people get around is how long it will take and how easy or hard it will be.  Many professionals choose to drive their own vehicle because it is often the quickest way by far from Point A to Point B.  They may be open to options that take a little longer or are a little less convenient if the difference is not too much.  Additionally, people have already paid for their cars, so they see it as a “sunk cost.” The incremental cost to drive seems negligible as compared to paying an additional bus fare. The key point is that the “convenience gap” must be closed, and closed significantly, to encourage people to share more often. 

C.        Rider Needs

“I drive my son to daycare on my way to work, so I need the car seat.”

“I rely upon my seeing eye dog and there are very few carpools that are OK with a dog in their car.”

“I’m a realtor, so my car is my office!”

As ridesharing matures and attempts to capture an ever greater share of the market, it will encounter a broader set of consumers whose needs are increasing complex and varied. It is important to consider that, although a significant number of passengers have fairly routine needs (just need to get from point A to point B), others may have more particularized needs.  For example, as has been discussed, many travelers include parents with children in car seats, disabled individuals, people who smoke or have pets, or other categories of individuals who need something more than “standard” rides. In order to encourage more ridesharing, leaders in both the private and public sectors will need to figure out how to meet some or all of these needs. 

D.        “Stranger Danger”

“I’m uncomfortable getting into a stranger’s car.”

“There are some shady people on the transit buses; I feel safer in my own car. 

Unfortunately, “sharing” does require a degree of trust in other humans. Whether it is sharing a personal vehicle or a railcar or a bus, a shared ride requires being around other people in a confined space. Women, in particular, have expressed concern for their safety in shared rides.

V. Discussion on key solutions

With that in mind, here are some ideas on how to drive more sharing:

Road Pricing Policies

People are, inherently, motivated by pricing. Today, driving and parking are perceived as being free since the personal vehicle is a sunk cost, and the flexibility of a personal car far outweighs the cost of gas and occasional maintenance. Road user charges involve charging drivers for the use of the roads; the charges can be customized to meet a region’s goals. For example, road user charges can be structured to charge more for usage at certain locations or certain times of day or they can be reduced or eliminated for shared or electric vehicles. Road user charging that is deeply discounted or free for vehicles with more than two people could contribute significantly to this behavior change.

Additionally, many existing governments that have road user charging in place use the proceeds to support the public transit system. This policy mechanism can have the added benefit of improving the reliability and availability of the public transit system.

Government Subsidies

Increasing ridesharing is directly aligned with government goals of reducing congestion, eliminating greenhouse gases, and improving people’s mobility options. Today, many government agencies are investing in carpooling and vanpooling programs and, in fact, many are beginning to subsidize Lyft and Uber rides in order to increase access to mass transit and reduce parking needs. For these reasons, it would not be surprising for government agencies (at all levels) to invest in more ridesharing programs to ensure that the ridesharing options are available to as many people as possible – both in geographical coverage and with accessible vehicles.

 Customizing Solutions that Meet Particular Rider Needs

One of the key areas that could be crucial for managing rides and fleets is customizing vehicles and rides to allow for maximum flexibility and to reach the broadest potential audience.  For example, vehicles could have a reconfigurable interior to allow for a variety of uses, including customizable car seats for children and space for equipment, pet friendly vehicles, storage or delivery needs, and permit privacy for individual passengers. Vehicles could also be customized based on type of activity or time of day.  For instance, vehicles could be customized by trip type, including weekend trips to national or state parks, skiing or other activity-based vehicles.

Given the number of travelers with specialized needs (parents with young children, the disabled, people with pets, and others), automakers and fleet managers will need to think carefully about how to manage these needs and address them to the extent possible by reverse engineering solutions.  

For example, a family with two car-seat aged kids wants to take a ride to a museum and then stop by a playground.  They want to store goods along the way and avoid multiple rides so they would normally drive.  What tools could make it easier to share?  Cities, developers and other property owners could provide storage lockers every block or two for people to store goods in between trips to make it easier to use public transit or other sharing options and provide real time information about transportation options so travelers know they won’t be inconvenienced.  Fleet managers could deploy specialized vehicles to cater to different types of passengers.  By getting at specific needs and then reverse engineering solutions, sharing can be made easier and more attractive.

Columbus, Ohio is now piloting a ridehailing service for low-income pregnant women.  This is a great example of a mobility solution targeted at a specific use case.

Sidewalk/Curb Space

The built environment has the potential to make transit and ridesharing of any sort more convenient and faster.  One way is to use the sidewalk and curb space to make it more convenient and faster for people to share.  For instance, a city could install storage lockers on every block within the urban area. This would address the challenge for certain would-be ridehailers that have nowhere to store goods in between trips. 

Additionally, cities could consider designating special curb areas or zones for ridesharing services.  This has been already discussed at great length, but it is an important element to reduce congestion and delays for all travelers and to make it easier and quicker to use ridesharing of any sort, whether bus, carpool or an Uberpool/Lyft Line. 

F. Technological Advances

Technological advances have and will likely continue to encourage shared rides. Here are just a few of our society’s latest examples:

• Multi-modal trip planners are providing real-time information that integrate various mobility options in one place – enabling people to truly understand their alternatives to driving;

• Real-time vehicle tracking and driver reviews are providing a level of accountability that never existed in the past – giving people a greater sense of trust and security; and

• Electronic payment options are reducing the need for real-time cash exchanges, which also increase the level (or at least the perception) of safety.

G. Increased Mobility Options

Rider decisions do not exist in a vacuum.  Rather, they are influenced by the full range of options, structure and appearance in our transportation system.  Pull-off zones can make it easier for shuttles and other services to utilize transit hubs.  First and last mile solutions such as bikes and scooters can make it easier for people to use rail lines, encouraging sharing.  Therefore, encouraging a broad set of mobility options can make sharing easier and more convenient.

VI. Conclusion

If we want more people to share rides, we need to think practically and holistically about how to solve their particular challenges.  Practically, because we need to reverse engineer a system that makes it easy and cost effective for people to want to share.  Holistically, we need numerous elements working together to execute an effective system that makes it convenient for people to share – whether or not autonomous vehicles are available. As demonstrated in this article, the obstacles to ridesharing are challenging today and will be no less difficult in the future. While the autonomous technology will address a lot of mobility challenges, we cannot assume that they will solve our sharing problem. 

As next steps, we encourage the mobility community to come together to engage in design thinking; iterating and piloting specific case examples to determine how best to encourage sharing while meeting rider needs. This could occur through workshops, demonstrations, and anything else that engages in specific case experiments. Only through a “test and learn” design process can we learn how to optimize our transportation system. Behavior change can be challenging, but new technologies and a new generation of riders present an opportunity for more sharing. As a society, we need to do what we can to ensure an autonomous, electric, and shared future.

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile where she leads the company’s efforts in partnerships, government regulations, and business development. EasyMile is a pioneer in driverless technology and smart mobility solutions; the fast-growing start-up develops software to automate transportation, revolutionizing passenger and goods transportation. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 200 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.

Blair Schlecter is the Vice President of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. He has spoken and written about transportation policy and innovation issues, including the impact of new technology on our society, in forums including ITS-Southern California, LA CoMotion, Eno Transportation Weekly and Thinking Highways Magazine.  He has also been involved in efforts to advance new mobility options, including autonomous vehicles. The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.


Name: Ron Thaniel
Title: Vice President, Legislative Affairs 
Company: ITS America!

Short Job description/Role Responsibility: Hill advocate for safer, greener, smarter, and more equitable communities through intelligent transportation technologies

Favorite Part of working at ITSA: We are helping communities large and small become green through smart transportation technologies. 

What’s the future of #ITS look like to you? Green transportation powering vibrant and livable cities and towns. 

Most looking forward to in 2019: A reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation law that finally moves from outdated policies and programs that led to sprawling and unsustainable 20th-century places to a reauthorization that supports livability, sustainability, and more equitable cities and towns across the U.S.

Hobbies: I am an avid runner with a passion for exploring cities while running busy boulevards, cobblestone streets, and parks. 

Favorite place to travel: Any global city.

First car you drove?: Jeep with a broken fuel gauge, which was always an adventure (especially as a broke college student).

Karaoke Song: “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz

If you weren’t working in Transportation industry you would: Mayor of one of America’s great cities.

Any other fun fact you would like to share? I have run in every major city in the U.S. and cities from Europe to Africa to the Middle East to Asia to South America. I love seeing the world block by block while running!