Ride-sharing, or carpooling as it also known, isn’t a new thing. Picture a bunch of students all jumping into one car to share a lift to college in the morning; or a big group of friends heading to a festival who decide to leave their respective motors at home and journey together in a couple of cars. Your ride, shared.
Cost-effective (only one trip is being made rather than three or four), good for traffic and the environment (less cars on the road), and sociable (everyone gets to hang out on the way, instead of sitting in solitary silence), ride-sharing has certainly got a lot going for it. And it’s making something of a comeback – with a 21st century twist.
In the US, ride-sharing has been around since the 40s, when the government encouraged people to travel to work together to conserve resources for the war effort. And ever since, this conscious means of transport has dipped in and out of prominence, often as a response to global issues over the decades – like energy crises, pollution, climate change and traffic congestion.
Its current resurgence owes a lot to the growing popularity of the sharing economy, which, along with advances in technology, has made this form of travel more relevant to the way we live today.
Accordingly, it now permeates our collective consciousness like never before – just look at James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, in which the likes of Adele, Stevie Wonder and Justin Bieber accompany the talk show host to work, occupying the time with small talk and sing-alongs.
Such a simple idea – two or more people travel together in a single car, usually, but not exclusively, to a shared destination – such a big impact. Oh, and let’s not forget that today these journeys can easily be organised, paid for and monitored with a few swift taps of your smartphone. This is the digital age, after all.
On average, a car spends approximately 95% of the time parked. For many this makes owning a car inefficient, especially in busy cities. Add to that the costs of fuel, insurance, tax and maintenance, and you’re looking at an expensive, underutilised asset.
“Households prefer to pay all these expenditures, just because they believe that car ownership offers them flexibility,” says Maria Kamargianni, head of the Urban Transport and Energy Group at the UCL Energy Institute. “With all these smartphone apps available, ride-sharing could offer the same flexibility as owning a vehicle, saving a lot of households money and time.”
Even when you’re actually using your car, you’re spending an average of 20 minutes looking for a place to park at the end of your journey. For your area alone, that could mean at least 730 tons of extra carbon dioxide floating up into the atmosphere per year.
Add to that an average of 1.6 passengers per car, per journey – making most vehicles on the road all but empty – and the upsides to ride-sharing start to become even clearer.
Sharing is caring
Getting a lift is like having a friendly chauffeur pick you up and drive you to work every day
“Getting a lift is like having a friendly chauffeur pick you up and drive you to work every day – for half the price of driving yourself,” says Ali Clabburn, founder of Liftshare.
“We now work with over 1,000 employers, and many of them save millions in reduced parking issues; have happier communities as overspill parking on local roads disappears; and a much happier workforce. Each commuter typically saves £1,000 a year on travel.”
The benefits aren’t just financial. Ride-sharing can cut down congestion – which in turn wastes time and fuel worth £41 billion in the US alone) – reduce CO2 emissions and vastly improve the air quality in our cities. And with fewer cars on the road thanks to ride-sharing, we could get creative by transforming land used for parking into recreational spaces – further improving the quality of life in the urban areas we inhabit.
“With ride-sharing apps, you have everything you need in just one interface,” adds Kamargianni, highlighting how easy it is to share a journey. “You can find your ride, check the driver, plan your trip, and pay. Smartphones have been the biggest innovation of the decade for the transport sector.”
Then there’s the social aspect. With many of us driving solo to our destinations, the way we use our cars today can be a lonely affair. With ride- sharing, positive, social interaction is baked right into the journey – whether it’s with friends, colleagues, or even complete strangers. “Little insights into a stranger’s life are always interesting,” says Georgia Fleury Reynolds, a casting director from London. “I like the idea that something unexpected could happen.”
The future is shared
While technology is making ride-sharing more accessible than ever, we’ve still got a long way to go before it completely displaces private car ownership.
“Baby boomers aren’t likely to sell their cars,” states Kamargianni. “For them, it’s a status symbol. But as generations are changing and moving from ownership to usership, sharing resources – including ride-sharing – will become more common.”
“Most people live close enough to routes where shared services could work really well if only everyone used them,” says Clabburn. “The services need to be convenient and comfortable, but I do think that one vision of the future is for access to trump ownership of cars.”
The sharing economy’s biggest players in transport agree, including Uber and Lyft. For these taxi companies, ride-sharing is here to stay, and the launch of their own carpooling services speaks volumes about its ever-growing popularity.
And with an independent review commissioned by the UK government recommending the adoption of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in support of shared journeys – like the US has – we might all be on the road to saving money, time, the environment and our sanity sooner than we thought.
“Sharing resources is a reality,” says Kamargianni. “Airbnb has already upended the hotel industry. Why not the same for urban transport?