In an earlier article, we advocated applying some of the principles of packet switching, the backbone technology of internet and telecom, to mobility and transport. After all, the similarity is clear. Packets carry bits, vehicles carry people and goods. In a first of a series of three articles, we’ll explore some possibilities. We’ll start by analyzing the impact of sharing vehicles.
In packet switching there is essentially a separation between the physical medium, the packets as carriers and the payload. In mobility we have a similar situation. Roads are often owned by a public or private authority, vehicles are operated on those roads by companies or individuals and they carry goods and people.
In telecom or Internet, a packet is not really physical. It is a bit stream that carries encoded information. It takes a small amount of time on the medium and a little bit of energy to transmit and receive them. The transmission is provided as a service and many users share the same carrier.
How does this translate on the road
In goods transportation, trucks transport for example, parcels and standardized containers. The latter for example drastically reduced ship loading and unloading times in our harbours. Still, often containers are moved around empty and many trucks drive around empty as well. Why? Mostly because the trucks and containers are owned by a specific entity.
When we look at for example cars, the situation is worse. Not only do cars spend most of their time being parked, when driven the average occupation is a mere 1.3 people per vehicle. Roughly speaking, we potentially could move 3 times as many people with the same amount of cars and potentially we could do with a lot less cars (if we would drive them instead of parking them).
Of course, this ignores that the demand has peaks during specific periods of the day. Fortunately, the fact that people often need to move at about the same time, gives us an important incentive to start sharing more vehicles.
Let us take as an example the widespread and typical traffic queues in the morning and the late afternoon. How many people living within a few blocks from each other are not moving all towards the same place where they work using the same roads? This is a good starting point because daily drive is boring, sometimes nerve racking and it is expensive.
How does the vehicle sharing app work
Let us assume we all have an app (be it on the phone, tablet or home computer) that allows us to post our daily trips to a central server. The server could then try to match up people willing to share the ride. Only registered members would be allowed, so no unexpected surprises. Furthermore, the server could calculate (based on averages for the car’s model) the real cost price of the trip and invoice each user, while compensating the car’s owner. The latter doesn’t even need to be the driver.
How could this work? First of all, the system will only work well if it has many members. This increases the likelihood of finding a match between the commuters. Secondly, the cost sharing will benefit all. No need really to make a surplus profit. The app sharing provider can be compensated by a small fee or membership contribution. After all, the cost price is low. Why, because the sharing app service itself makes heavily use of the already existing packet switching network of Internet and telecom.
Needless to say, if we can double the average occupancy of the cars, we could have half the number of cars on the road. Bye-bye traffic jams. The system works day and night, hence the roads and vehicles will be better used, but last longer. And of course, the same principle can be applied to transport of goods. A further extension of the app could be to include public transport options, especially important for cities as space there is at a premium.
What do you think? Can such a system work? Does it need to be scaled to for example Europe? Or just kept locally? What are the main obstacles? What are the benefits and opportunities?
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.