What are the inhibitors?
The idea of Dynamic Ride Sharing has been tried a number of times and to date failed, in that a sustainable market of drivers and riders failed to materialise. See Dynamic ridesharing projects. Why?
Look around you while traveling on any road. The Census indicates that private vehicle occupancy is seldom over 1 person per vehicle. Clearly, empty seats are not scarce. There is a great deal of extra capacity that is not being used. So why?
A number of reasons are commonly given, they include:
- Flexibility: 'plan-free' travel. We have our car with us all the time, can start a trip any time, start back any time, and change plans any time.
- Reliability: If you maintain your car it is always available. Depending on car pools, taxis, or other services may be a problem if the system is not highly robust.
- Comfort: Driving is one of the few remaining places for solitude. Why spoil it by sharing with some random person that might be repugnant?
- Safety: you are safer in your own car than in someone else's. Hitchhiking or car-pooling with unfamiliar people might be dangerous.
- Coolness: Driving around in a Porsche cannot be beat; cars are like jewelry for guys.
- Marginal Economy: Once you have paid for a car, the annual tax and filled it with gas, each individual journey seems cheap.
These perceptions common in geographies that were was designed around the automobile. Few cityscapes, especially in the U.S. were developed before the car. Public transit was often added after 'sprawl' was dominant. For instance, in the affluent San Francisco Bay Area environmental impact and cost are common considerations but minor influences. They motivate a few, but to get the critical mass of attitude essential for change, is a major challenge. It appears that for most individuals personal time is precious. They might buy a hybrid, but won't ride share, bicycle, or take public transportation. Even if they can tolerate the time lost on the basic commute, they believe they need their car for ad hoc trips during the day.
The following pages provide detailed discussion of factors that appear to have inhibited the adoption of ridesharing, to date:
The feeling amongst practitioners is that schemes that are truly dynamic (EcoLane, ReadySetGoose, Ride Now!, EcoShare) succeed or fail on the critical mass issue. While other inhibitors (such as incentives and attitudes) are important, critical mass is just that: critical.
The other inhibitors, call them secondary inhibitors, either undermine or are overcome in the road toward critical mass. Take for example the often quoted attitudinal inhibitor that 'people prefer their solitude'. While this inhibition does exist, many travellers overcome it for a modest time/cost advantage when they take public transit. Dynamic ridesharing can claim to offer similar levels of time/cost advantage, if the traveller forgoes a similar level of solitude. This topic is focus of the SafeRide study.
In summary, as with any new market that requires behaviour or perception change by consumer, many inhibitors will be addressed by schemes before dynamic ridesharing succeeds. However the major challenge facing dynamic ridesharing is critical mass.