Finding traffic and car ownership solutions through ride- and car-sharing

This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.
While the D.C. region benefits from a diverse set of transportation options, there are unique situations where cars become necessary for those who don’t normally need them. With the rise of the sharing economy, there are now ways for residents to find more efficient ways to take the occasional trip by car.

At the August edition of the Mobility Lab-sponsored Transportation Techies: Playing with Traffic II, in WeWork Crystal City, a group of programmers presented some of the ways people are sharing rides and cars in the D.C. region.

Sharing services: more people with fewer cars

Split’s Anna Petrone explained the D.C.-based service’s process that determines how users are grouped together in order to provide “smarter shared rides.” The algorithm handles the multiple factors at play, from the number of ride requests, how big the service area is, and how far people are traveling. Almost like an on-demand bus, the service connects riders’ requests along a common route and collects them at established points.

Throughout the day, Split adjusts these variables in order to optimize the number of vehicles on the road. They balance that efficiency with the variables they can influence, such as the number of people in the same car and how far people will have to walk to their collection points. Petrone explained that if each user makes a “small to moderate sacrifice” – walking a block to their pickup point – that creates a larger benefit by moving everyone using the service more efficiently.

Andriy Klymchuk’s app, Sameride, just went live last week, and seeks to build a carpooling community along certain driving routes. Sameride is starting with one of the same variables Split uses: limiting its operations area. By focusing outreach on one route at a time, Klymchuk hopes to make it easier for users headed in the same direction to match with each other. The first route for carpooling is between Woodbridge and Tysons Corner, Va., and more are scheduled in the future.

Jay Subramaniam presented the San Francisco-based Getaround, or an “AirBNB for cars,” as he explained it. The service connects people who only need cars occasionally with those who own them and only use them occasionally. This way, the cost of owning a car spreads to multiple users, and more people can make use of fewer vehicles. Subramaniam estimates that for every car Getaround has in its network, about 10 are never bought. There are currently about 90 vehicles registered with the service inside D.C., suggesting 900 were taken off the street. As it grows, Getaround hopes to make it easier for more residents to avoid buying a car, while giving them an affordable renting option when they need one.

Building blocks

Ride Leads is a digital platform that currently powers the DC Taxi app, but Matt Cunningham hopes it will ultimately integrate multimodality into commuters’ trips. The platform provides a “plug and play” development ability, allowing cities to bring all of their transportation resources into one app. Through that app, users can find the cheapest and most efficient connections to their destinations, such as taking a taxi to the Metro, and they can pay for the entire commute through the platform.

Ride Lead hopes to be part of the move toward creating “smart cities,” with a service that integrates data reporting and analysis. Cunningham expects integrated transit platforms to make it easier for cities to manage their many modes, and in turn lead to more cars off the road.

Prathi Vakharia and Ely Yousoufzai presented Ride Amigos, a platform that incentivizes non-driving transportation modes within large organizations. Following the psychological principle that major events create a lasting emotional impact, the platform encourages users during disruptions to try other ways to work. Once users have been exposed to these new modes, there is a chance that they will adopt them in the long-term. Yousoufazai even noted that adoption of new modes continues to happen after people win awards, because others will see the incentives and become curious.

Using the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, as a backdrop, the pair explained changes in commuter habits that lasted after the event had ended. By promoting and gamifying ridesharing and active transportation with challenges and financial rewards, Ride Amigos’ platform logged just under 200,000 alternative trips during the games. Overall, 35 percent of commuters changed their habits during the event and, importantly, 15 percent maintained their new transportation habit.

Antonio Zugaldia presented Mapbox and its Drive platform, which underlies a number of apps, including Split. With its software development kits for app creators, Mapbox provides a major building block for services that rely heavily on geography, namely ride-hailing and -sharing.

The foundation of the platform is real-time sensor data from connected devices. This helps Mapbox compute traffic patterns, fill in missing roads, provide accurate lane or street shapes, and correctly align vehicles with their surroundings. Mapbox uses Open Street Map – the Wikipedia of maps, as Zugaldia explains it – which is continually updated by volunteer users.

Filling in the network

By connecting commuter to shared rides, it is possible to expand transportation options and accessibility while cutting the number of vehicles on the road. Moving people efficiently on-demand and providing options to forego car ownership can add a greater degree of flexibility in a city’s transportation network.

Photo: Anna Petrone explains how Split’s algorithm creates its matches (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr).

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