Quantifying Carsharing’s Public Policy Benefits

The expansion of car sharing is visibly changing the transportation landscape in urban areas. While car sharing programs have existed since the ’90s, they have grown considerably in recent years.

Last year, commercial car sharing membership in the United States rose by 34 percent to more than 1.3 million members, up from less than a million in the previous year. The nation’s commercial car share fleet grew to more than 19,000 vehicles in 2014, an increase of more than 2,300 vehicles from 2013.[*]

The growing popularity of car sharing should come as no surprise, since automobiles are unlikely to be replaced anytime in the foreseeable future as the “personal vehicle” of choice. For Generation Y consumers, in particular, affordability and high operational and maintenance costs are enough to dissuade many from owning a vehicle, making car sharing programs an attractive alternative.

There is no question that consumers have been the primary beneficiaries of car sharing services. The question facing urban planners is what role car sharing could play in advancing public policy goals such as congestion reduction, lowering the number of traffic accidents, improving air quality, and reducing the urban footprint required for parking.

Estimating car sharing’s potential public policy benefits

To understand the public policy benefits that could be achieved from increased car sharing, neighborhoods across the US were identified where car sharing is likely to be feasible, using established criteria for where car sharing works and where it does not while also accounting for ongoing improvements to car sharing business models and efficiency that are increasing its reach.

Then the likely potential car sharing members in each of those neighborhoods were calculated, and it was estimated how many cars they would shed and how many fewer miles they would drive daily annually if they were to join a car share program. Here is the result:

Reduced vehicle ownership: In the United States, it can be estimated that car sharing could reduce nationwide vehicle ownership by nearly 2.1 million vehicles, or slightly more than 1 percent of the total number of vehicles in the United States in 2013, according to the Census Bureau.

Savings to consumers: The potential annual savings from car sharing is projected to reach a ceiling of $4.3 billion annually. These savings would come from different sources. Drivers who become car share members would eventually save $1.4 billion in direct vehicle maintenance and upkeep costs as they reduce their own driving. Commuters nationwide would benefit from reduced congestion, avoiding $185 million worth of wasted fuel and $2.2 billion in time delay.

Savings to cities: Cities would save $366 million in annual deferred road construction costs, $77 million in accident avoidance, and $36 million in savings from almost 1 million metric tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Estimated economic impacts of car sharing by metro area

Of course not all cities would benefit equally from increased car sharing. The largest, most densely populated cities stand to gain the most from increased car sharing (see table below for savings projections by metro area).

The New York City metro area, for example, could reduce its vehicle population by almost three percent if car sharing were fully implemented, and could potentially see car sharing membership as high as 13.2 percent of all commuters.

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reductions from these new car sharers could lead to $1.4 billion in annual savings to New York City and its commuters, including $127 million in deferred annual road construction costs. Chicago, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Boston are not far behind in their car sharing potential.

The potential savings table and the accompanying map, which explore the mobility potential of individual neighborhoods within larger census tracts, can be consulted to understand the benefits other US metropolitan areas could reap from expanding car sharing.

Share your experience: Do you travel more or less with car sharing as a mobility option? What role does owning a private vehicle play for you?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Ridesharing: Modernizing How Empty Passenger Seats in Vehicles are Filled

For decades, governments have tried in vain to come up with solutions to traffic gridlock by adding high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) lanes to roads and spending billions on elaborate public transportation networks. The result: commute times have just continued to get longer.

Today, however, the convergence of new business models based on the sharing economy and disruptive technologies is reinventing an important but underused tool in the traffic congestion toolkit: carpooling. The rigid, regular schedules that carpooling was designed around decades ago are less commonplace in the modern workforce. Increasingly, flexible work schedules mean that workers need more options for their commute, options that cater to ever-changing, sometimes unpredictable lifestyles.

Dynamic ridesharing is one of a number of emerging models that gives commuters more flexible options, while at the same time helping governments address the age old problem of filling the empty passenger seats in vehicles.

Real-time ridesharing services use mobile technology and geospatial analytics to match drivers with riders as they travel, so that passengers can rideshare from wherever they are, whenever they want, often in exchange for micro-payments that help offset the cost of the trip for the driver.

In some of the most heavily congested corridors across the country, governments are beginning to pursue dynamic ridesharing as a means of reducing congestion, in essence, making private vehicles a de facto extension of the public transportation system.

How ridesharing’s congestion reduction potential can be maximized

Experience teaches that it would not be easy, but the following strategies could help to make progress:

• Expand tax incentives to ridesharing: Extending the employee pre-tax benefits currently available for parking, transit passes and vanpool costs to ridesharing could increase its appeal to commuters.

• Improve ride matching platforms’ customer experience: Cities need to determine how best to marshal private sector innovation to bring first-class user interfaces, highly reliable service, incentives for participation and widespread public awareness to ride matching.

• Use infrastructure investments to support ridesharing: Commuters who carpool are motivated principally by the time or money they can save by doing so. As the US Federal Highway Administration has observed, “Infrastructure plays an important role in helping dynamic rideshares accumulate time and money savings by allowing carpoolers free or reduced-cost access to restricted lanes.”

Real-time ridesharing initiatives should be bundled with high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) and high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane projects, as well as in any new designated commuter lots that can facilitate the convenient pickup and drop-off of passengers via dedicated entrance and exit ramps.

• Focus on building critical ridesharing mass in key corridors: Rather than trying to expand ridesharing across a wide region, planners should focus on building a critical mass of users in particular corridors. A base level of “guaranteed” service (meaning that a commuter will always be guaranteed a carpool on a corridor) is needed to generate repeat users until a critical mass is achieved.

• Recruit participants through trusted channels: Recruiting efforts are most effective when they involve trusted channels such as employers. New employee orientations, for instance, represent an effective channel for improving awareness of ridesharing as a commuting option.

• Target younger commuters: Recent years have seen significant shifts in attitudes towards vehicle sharing, especially among Millennials. Forty-two percent of Generation Y consumers in the United States say they are willing to carpool if carpooling is readily available and convenient.

• Establish public-private partnerships (PPPs) to improve mobility: Forward-thinking jurisdictions could adopt pay-for-success models that specify particular mobility outcomes, rather than the means by which those outcomes are to be achieved.

Doing so could open up new kinds of partnerships with automakers, ridesharing companies and others exploring new mobility services and stimulate innovative methods for reducing gridlock in some of the most congested corridors.

Leave a comment: Do you use ridesharing services and what are the reasons for using such services?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Will Digital Technologies Impact the Future of Transportation? – Part 3

The future of mobility will be more social mainly built on collaboration. In order to provide a sustainable mobility solution, together with governments and public companies, it becomes necessary for urban planners to actively engage people and communities in the process of planning, revising strategies and policies.

Scenario 3: Social Transport

There is a fundamental disconnect at the heart of the current transportation system: It is a system, yet its parts do not talk to one another directly. With the advent of networked cars and infrastructure, location awareness, and social networks, that may be coming to an end. The transportation system of the future will be social – built on collaboration among neighbors, communities, governments and traffic managers on everything from traffic planning to signal timing to commute planning.

“Collaboration”, suggests that transportation can become something more than simply the aggregation of millions of people’s individual decisions about how to get where they want to go. The day is not far off when their decisions can be informed by other people’s advice, broader system-level objectives, real-time travel conditions, crowdsourced information, and even community values.

Here is how social transport might work:


Integrated Transportation System

As these three scenarios suggest, we are already seeing aspects of what this new world might look like. Smartphones are expanding their reach in both numbers of users and phone capabilities, thus creating new models for getting people from point A to point B.

Social networking is abetting new ways of thinking about organizing communities and motivating change. Insights into human behavior – think gamification – are rewriting how we approach transportation problem solving. And, of course, emerging technologies are changing pretty much every aspect of how we get around. As a field, transportation has become rich with possibility.

There remains a lot of work to do. Standards are nascent for the technology that will underpin our transportation system. Frameworks for public-private partnerships must be established, monitored and adapted as needs change. The simple notion that people’s transportation needs, rather than vehicle throughput, ought to be at the center of the system will demand a change in culture throughout public transportation departments.

There will undoubtedly be a public role, perhaps a central one, in making it easier for travelers to experience an integrated transportation system. Providing safe and reliable infrastructure with the capacity to handle demand will undoubtedly remain a core government function, even if the models for how to finance and create it change.

Still, what is most exciting about this particular moment is that the opportunities seem unlimited for both the private and public sectors to make human mobility cleaner, safer, more efficient and more enjoyable. Finding our way into this new era may take work, but there is no question that we have crossed the brink.

Leave a comment: What is the important factor that you consider when choosing a mode of transport for your day-to-day commute?

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Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Will Digital Technologies Impact the Future of Transportation? – Part 2

New possibilities and opportunities such as the rise of social networking, the spread of mobile technology and the development of connected vehicle technology are transforming the transportation landscape. But, the biggest challenge faced by governments and private companies is to find an approach to seamlessly integrate these technologies to provide a cost-effective transport and help users to personalize their transport experience.

Scenario 1: The Internet of Cars

If you were plucked from 1912 and set down on a city sidewalk today, you would know immediately what you saw driving past in the streets. The cars might not look like the Metz Runabouts and Brush roadsters of your day, but there would be no doubt they were cars.

As Chris Borroni-Bird, co-author of Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, notes, “The same DNA is in today’s autos as in the autos of 100 years ago.” They have four wheels, an engine in front with a passenger compartment behind, an internal combustion engine fueled by petroleum, mechanical controls that rely on a driver and drivers who are unconnected to other drivers and the surrounding infrastructure.

Now, Borroni-Bird points out, all this is changing. Power sources are diversifying to include biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen fuel cells. Cars can be controlled electronically and will be capable of driving themselves. As revolutionary as all this may be, though, perhaps the most game-changing possibilities lie in the fact that cars are about to join the information superhighway.

According to Andreas Mai and Dirk Schlesinger of Cisco Systems, “It is no longer enough to sell personal transportation. People want a personalized driving experience that keeps them connected to everything that is important to them – friends, information, music, maps, schedules and more. Connected cars could do for the automotive industry what smartphones did for the phone industry.”

The Internet of Cars might work something like this:

Scenario 2: Dynamic pricing

The world is moving inexorably towards the notion that goods and especially services need not be priced statically. Airlines and hotels, of course, have been pricing seats and rooms dynamically for years. Electric utilities have been installing smart meters that will, among other things, allow them to respond to changing demand by changing prices.

Transportation stands on a similar frontier, made possible by the spread of mobile technology, location-based services, and “contactless” payment systems. These will ultimately allow for two key values to be embedded in transportation pricing:

– Users pay a more direct portion of the actual costs of the services and modes they use.

– Prices respond to demand to increase the overall efficiency of the transportation system.

The benefits would run throughout the system. As depicted below, drivers and passengers would get clear signals about the cost of a given choice, allowing them to make decisions about their timing, route, and mode of travel that take into account both their own needs and the overall system’s. Transportation managers and providers would be able to set prices according to availability, cost, congestion, demand, the desire to attract customers and other considerations.

Ideally, the result would be to optimize the efficiency of the entire transportation system, lessening the peaks and valleys for everything from seats on a bus to use of a downtown street to parking in the most popular shopping and entertainment districts.

Leave a comment: How important it is for you to be connected while moving?

Stay tuned, the third part of the article is coming soon

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Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Will Digital Technologies Impact the Future of Transportation? – Part 1

The arrival of the “information everywhere” world has opened up new opportunities to make the existing transportation network far more efficient and user friendly. Coupled with new transportation capacity, the changes spurred by technological change and the innovations it inspires will transform the way we move about in 21st century.

Services like real-time ridesharing and carsharing, for instance, are helping urbanites enjoy the flexibility and convenience of car transport without owning a car – and are making the private vehicle a de facto extension of the public transportation system.

New apps are allowing commuters to compare the time, cost, convenience, carbon footprint and health benefits across all modes of public and private transport, broadening their choices and allowing for on-the-fly decisions that take real-time conditions into account.

For their part, automakers are focused on next-generation connected and autonomous vehicles that can access, consume, create and share information with other vehicles and surrounding infrastructure in real time – improving traffic flow and safety. And dynamic pricing mechanisms for roads, parking spaces and shared-use assets are helping to balance supply and demand.

The result of these innovations – and of the ecosystem of creative players that have been drawn to transportation, from information technology companies to ridesharing pioneers to app makers – is that the mobility field will look very different going forward.

It will likely be:

– Massively networked, with ubiquitous connectivity throughout the system; – Dynamically priced, so as to balance supply and demand;

– User-centered, taking into account users’ needs, priorities, and dynamic responses to conditions; – Integrated, so that users can move easily from point A to point B, regardless of mode, service provider, or time of day; and

– Reliant on new models of private-public collaboration, which take advantage of the increasingly diverse ecosystem of public, private, and nonprofit entities that are working to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st century.

By extrapolating from current trends, we have devised in parallel three scenarios that illustrate the future of transportation. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive; indeed, any effective transportation system is likely to contain elements of all three: widely connected vehicles, or “the Internet of cars”; pricing that aligns supply with demand; and the spread of social networking into transportation decision-making.

How these ultimately take shape will depend on the complicated interplay of a range of players – the public sector, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and a host of others – and how they go about resolving the issues that each “scenario” presents.

Share your experience in our comment section: What kind of apps do you use to commute from point A to point B?

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Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.