The future of urban mobility is rapidly changing as drivers look for safer and more effortless ways to move from point A to point B. While autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, ridesharing options are expanding beyond Uber and Lyft to incorporate drivers of single-occupancy cars to accept other riders on their commutes.
Especially in urban areas, there are a lot of factors that detract from this option: cost, parking and convenience. Experience and research have proven that public transportation doesn’t work for everyone, and even for the people who participate, conditions are often less than ideal.
The alternatives started with Uber and Lyft, but now those ridesharing services are becoming more and more saturated. It’s also simply too expensive for employees with long commutes to take advantage of current ridesharing services, even if they’re pooled with multiple people in the car.
This brings us to the new mobility frontier: getting drivers of single-occupancy cars to accept rides from other people along their commute. Of course, the idea of carpooling is not a new one. But the idea of using technology to enable carpooling is.
I’ve spent the past four years here at PARC studying user needs in the area of mobility. Most recently, I’ve focused my attention on the concept of private ridesharing — specifically carpooling — as I work with our development team, pilot-testing Xerox’s mobility solutions in Los Angeles and Denver.
I’ve talked with transit riders in both cities to understand their needs, and I’m now working with our team to conceptualize how our solution might best address the untapped carpooling market.
Recently, three different carpooling offerings have been piloted in the Bay Area, too. I’ve simultaneously spent the last two months gaining a deeper understanding into what it’s like to be a carpool driver. I’ve participated in carpooling activities by accepting riders through three different companies in the Bay Area.
And based on my research, I’ve developed a set of requirements that a carpooling offering will need to incorporate in order to be successful.
- The offering must be equally rider- and driver-centric. Some offerings cater more to one or the other, but both riders and drivers must experience a version of the system that makes them feel as though the system was built for them.
- The price must be just enough to incentivize the driver, but not so much that the rider won’t want to pay. From my perspective, the right amount seems to be the current governmental reimbursable rate for mileage — which, incidentally, is less than competing alternatives like uberPOOL or Lyft Line. But even if the mileage rate is attractive, the length of the ride must also match driver expectations for compensation. For instance, my commute is 40 miles, and I have been offered to give a ride to someone who would, according to the app, take me out of my way for 17 minutes — roughly one-third of my commute. It compensates me only $6.99. Worth it? Not for me.
- The length of the rideshare is important, but so is the distance drivers have to go out of their way to pick up the rider in the first place. Routes must be in what I call the sweet zone: the distance one must deviate from a usual journey in order to pick up riders. The sweet zone varies by driver, so a recommended app feature would allow drivers to generate their own personal zone — how far they are willing to deviate. This zone could be by distance or by time (e.g. 25 miles out of my way versus an additional 10 minutes on top of my normal commute).
- The system must be able to learn and improve. Riders and drivers should be able to give feedback on quality of routes and riders, for instance. A mechanism to gather that feedback should be built into the app.
- Drivers should have moderate insight and control into how and when they receive ride requests. One carpool system I experimented with did not give drivers any input into managing their drive, and it was chaotic. Another gave too much, and it was burdensome. Yet another was very clear about when it would accept ride requests for either driver or rider, but as clear and nice as that is — it is almost too inflexible because after the cut-off points one can’t make changes without being penalized. Before the cut-off points, one doesn’t know if rides have been accepted.
- Safety and feeling of comfort. With carpooling, drivers and riders are both concerned about safety, privacy and comfort — more than with other types of ridesharing, which are often shorter rides. Longer routes give carpooling an intimacy; people care who they are going to spend time with in close quarters for longer periods of time. One of the systems I tried out does a great job of linking Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to the profiles of the users in their system, so people on the “other end of the app” are known entities up front. If a user has no profile attached to a request, drivers or riders can choose to reject the request. On all systems I checked out, both drivers and riders have the ability to rate each other and block future contact if things don’t go well. One morning, I picked up a rider who seemingly had just woken up, and was rushing through breakfast in my car. Based on that behavior — and personal hygiene habits — I blocked future requests from that person.
- Develop a culture of carpooling. Although the driver often dictates the culture, it would be great for systems to publish their own suggested etiquette for both riders and drivers. As more people partake in carpooling, this development would be helpful so that people know how to behave and understand the culture.
- Add more choice to the number and types of riders and drivers. As the number of riders and drivers expands in a system, riders and drivers will be able to drill down to more specific requests — things like a quieter car, a limited number of pickups, the ability to participate in conference calls during the ride and smoking and eating options.
- Add the ability for drivers to take multiple riders. Only one service I used provided the opportunity for a driver to pick up two riders at once — and ironically, the driver doesn’t have the option to limit pickups to one in that app. Riders may in the end be willing to pay more for a solo ride, but, theoretically, allowing for multiple riders would bring costs down for the riders, while the driver could earn more — even more of a win if the riders live or work in close geographic proximity to each other.
This is an exciting time for mobility. We’re launching into an era where we’ll have multiple affordable options for daily transport. As we research adding private ridesharing to our mobility solution, we stand to create one of the first one-stop shopping experiences that are meticulously thought through.