Ridesharing: The Carpooling of the Future

If you’ve ever been stuck in the travel lane while other commuters speed past you in the carpool lane, you might think that just about everyone is sharing a ride to work. You would also be wrong.

Despite efforts by everyone from individual businesses to environmentalists to the federal government to encourage commuters to carpool to work, the number of carpoolers has actually steadily declined since 1980. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of commuters carpooled in 1980. Today, that number has plummeted to just 9 percent of commuters.

The reasons for the drop in carpoolers are as varied as commuters themselves. As cities have spread out and workers have moved further and further away from their jobs, carpooling simply isn’t practical for some people. Other reasons cited for driving into work alone include concerns about others’ punctuality, what happens when one needs to work late or leave work early, and the need to do other errands on the way home. And of course, there is also the social element: Some people simply don’t want to have to make conversation or interact with co-workers in the car, and would rather have some “alone time” during their commute.

With the number of carpoolers dropping significantly every year, many are concerned about the environmental impact of increasing traffic and other related issues. Although incentives such as reduced tolls, free or reduced cost parking, and carpool lanes aren’t enticing more people to carpool, there is hope on the horizon: Ridesharing.

Ridesharing and Carpooling: A Match Made in Heaven

Anyone who has used a service like Uber or Lyft is familiar with the concept of ridesharing. Instead of driving yourself or hailing a cab, you simply request a ride when you need it, and enjoy door-to-door service for a reasonable rate. These services, along with others, have also introduced carpooling features. In exchange for a deep discount, users can share a car with others going in the same direction. They may need to make multiple stops, but it’s a cheap and efficient option for those who aren’t pressed for time.

According to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this method of carpooling could potentially replace all of the taxis in New York City. That’s right: Researchers predict that all 14,000 New York cabs could be replaced by either a fleet of 3,000 four-person vehicles, or 2,000 10-person vehicles. These vehicles could manage 94 or 95 percent of the demand in New York, respectively. On average, riders would only need to wait less than three minutes for a car to arrive, and the multiple stops would add less than four minutes to the trip. In fact, it’s possible that such an arrangement could even get commuters to their destinations faster, due to the reduced traffic on city streets. In fact, when you combine carpooling via rideshare with car sharing services that allow users to use cars only when they need them, you could potentially cut city traffic by more than 40 percent.

In less urban communities, ridesharing has the potential to not only increase the number of people carpooling to work, but can also increase opportunity. Not only is it more convenient — instead of trying to find co-workers heading to your neighborhood and arrange pickups and drop-offs, a ridesharing app handles the logistics for you — but it can save money on commuting costs. Using a ridesharing app even just a few times a week to arrange a ride to work can reduce your gas consumption, wear and tear on your car, and other expenses like parking and tolls.

However, in some areas carpooling via an app is being hailed as a means of expanding opportunities for those who may have limited access to transportation and thus less access to opportunities. In areas with limited public transportation, for instance, low-income individuals may not be able to get a job even just a few miles from home. Carpooling with others for a reduced rate can get them to work, and open up new possibilities.

Of course, there are some barriers to overcome. A Pew Research Center survey revealed that about 85 percent of people have never used a ride-hailing app, so in order for ridesharing to reverse the decline in carpooling, adoption would have to increase. Still, as fewer people want to spend more time with their co-workers than absolutely necessary, there is hope that ridesharing could encourage more of them to share a ride at least a few days per month, reducing traffic and the impact on the environment.