As many as 95 percent of trips in big cities could be shared with no more than a 5-minute inconvenience for riders, according to a recent report co-authored by Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.
Back in 2010, the Albany Times Union did some interesting reporting to delve into why New York State residents seemed incapable adopting a sharing mindset when it comes to driving. (Granted, 2010 was before the Uber craze, but even that kind of ride-hailing more often has a taxi feel than a carpooling one.) The paper’s own surveying found very few people carpooling and this article gives a range of the unlimited excuses people can make for their lack of enthusiasm about sharing.
In conversations about mobility these days, sharing is understood as a necessary part of the solution for fixing overwhelming demand on transportation systems. Even (and especially) car companies are beginning to lean heavily on shared rides or shared vehicles as an important component in their future share of the transportation market.
While one kind of shared mobility question may still remain – will people eventually grow accustomed to sharing their private vehicles? – sharing a common, company-owned vehicle does seem to have a growing place.
Walter Rosenkrantz, senior business-development manager at car2go, itself owned by German automaker Daimler, spoke at the Association for Commuter Transportation’s Public Policy Summit last week in Washington, D.C. (which Mobility Lab co-sponsored).
“Carsharing has exploded. It’s kind of here to stay. The more there is out there, the more personal vehicles are going to be shared. Pretty soon it’s not going to make sense to have a car. It’s just going to be easier to get around without a car, so why have one?”
The numbers indeed look impressive. Car2go’s membership surpassed 2 million in 2016. But looking more closely, those are global numbers, and people in the U.S. haven’t always behaved like those in other countries, especially when it comes to transportation. In fact, carsharing revenue in North America is expected to drop – given faster growth in international markets – to just 23 percent of the global total by 2024. And numbers for projected U.S. growth in carsharing can be difficult to come by.
Further, think anecdotally. When I have conversations with residents of the D.C. region and mention the concept of sharing – even in a place as traffic-clogged as the nation’s capital, where there are tons of alternatives to driving alone – I get blank stares. They may as well be saying to me, “I spent $30,000 for my nice car, why would I let someone else tag along on my commute?”
Surprisingly, it appears we have little understanding regarding the fundamental question of whether or not people are even willing to share their own vehicles in the first place.
And if people are willing to share, is that number going up or down? Does “shared mobility” include being in a small, non-transit vehicle with strangers? The pieces of the sharing economy and shared mobility that are working fabulously – AirBnB for home rentals, bikesharing – are not shared at the same time but rather used continuously.
“I’m not sure people think about their transportation [as shared resources]” said the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s Sharon Feigon, who also presented at ACT’s conference. “People join carsharing programs when their car is broken down, they have a major break up [in a relationship], or have just moved to a new city. They try it as temporary thing and it ends up working for them.”
She’s right: it often takes a major life change to get people to think about not just sharing, but the overall way that they move around. A brief survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that, in 2015, only 44 percent of U.S. adults were familiar with the sharing economy. More specifically:
According to our data, 8 percent of all adults have participated in some form of automotive sharing. 1 percent have served as providers under this new model, chauffeuring passengers around or loaning out their car by the hour, day or week. Of all the categories we examined, this is the one in which consumers would most like to see the sharing economy succeed.
Today, many people simply don’t share their vehicles, for any number of reasons, despite the emergence of some rental-like services like GetAround. But there is hope, because even though nobody wants to share their cars, they all want other people to share their cars.
“Unless you raise parking prices or make it prohibitively difficult to drive, you can’t change the balance,” Feigon added. “[The Shared-Use Mobility Center is] not fixated on whether people do or don’t like to share. There is something healthy about it, given the rise of [sprawl- and auto-driven] loneliness, and land use that promotes pedestrian activity is inherently social and also involves physical activity. Setting up the conditions for that is really good.
“In my own experiences, taking the train, I catch up with people I know. And you don’t have to deal with anybody if you don’t want to. [Taking transit or sharing] can make you more accepting of different kinds of people,” she said.
Other than focusing on people who are making major life changes, one demographic Feigon suggested could be ripe for more sharing is women with school-age children, who drive the most of any category of people and make lots of short trips that conflict with the poor ways we’ve designed our communities.
“That was not the biggest category of drivers 50 years ago,” she laughed.
We often hear how technology alone won’t change behavior; rather, it takes true willingness of people. But with getting people to share, technology may currently be a helpful motivator.
Along with that hope, it’s a safe bet that more research about the willingness of people to share and, specifically, what could make them share seats in their own cars, is equally critical.
Photo, top: car2go cars parked outside of a light rail station in Austin, Texas (Lars Plougmann, Flickr, Creative Commons).