Why carpooling is the future, whether you like it or not

An MIT study shows that a fleet of 3,000 vehicles used on a shared basis would be sufficient to replace New York’s 13,237 taxis covering 98% of trips with a waiting time of about 2.7 minutes.

Car-pooling is undergoing a transition. The success of Uber Pool, the acquisition of Chariot by Ford, or the reorientation of Waymo’s autonomous vehicle project from small Koalas to minivans such as the recently introduced Chrysler Pacifica clearly point to the idea of energy efficiency, of transporting more people in fewer vehicles and generating savings in time and money, thanks to applications that coordinate travelers on a route, thus minimizing detours.

When we incorporate autonomous driving into the equation, we find bus services incorporated into traffic in Helsinki, which began in August 2016, or Las Vegas, which started a few days ago: a form of supplementing conventional public transport with technology that reduces costs and increases efficiency.

Carpooling is hardly a new idea, but the internet, smartphones and apps have given it a new lease of life. Uber Pool, arguably the most quantitatively important service at this time worldwide, was presented by Travis Kalanick himself in a TED talk in March entitled “Uber’s plan to move more people in fewer cars” and has been so successful that the company itself has even had to issue communiqués in some cities asking people not to use it as a dating service. Currently present in more than 45 cities, the service depends on the availability of a network of drivers large enough to create optimized routes, but is considered one of the best ways to improve transportation in exchange for tiny increases in journey times.

For traditional automotive companies, the idea of ​​a future in which most of their sales are directed not to end-users, but to fleets that exploit carpooling vehicles is, without a doubt, an economic challenge, but at the same time an unavoidable reality down the road. The greater efficiency of the system obviously means a smaller number of vehicles is required to offer the same number of journeys, but at the same time, these vehicles are subject to high levels of use, which therefore entails greater amortization, faster renewal rates and more maintenance. The incorporation of the other two additional elements of change, electrification and autonomous driving, pose even greater challenges, but again, impossible to ignore moving forward.

For city authorities, vehicle sharing is one of the most important issues to address in the immediate future. At the round table I had a chance to hear in Detroit, where the mayors of Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus and Detroit shared their vision of the future of transportation in their cities, there was much talk of the efficiency associated with carpooling to supplement public transport, along with the need to share data among the different services operating in a city. The idea, as I have said on other occasions, is to discourage private use of cars as much as possible and to make the idea of ​​not owning a vehicle more acceptable, with measures ranging from urban tolls, traffic and parking restrictions on private vehicles in certain areas, and special taxes. Clinging to traditional urban transport solutions subject to an economy of scarcity, systems based on licenses or imperfect monopolies that only benefit those who exercise them are increasingly seen as going against the tide… and common sense.

Without a doubt, carpooling will be part of urban life in a very short time. Whether electric or self-driven or both, the idea of moving a metal object weighing several hundred kilograms to transport a single person makes no sense, and technology has advanced sufficiently to make it possible to efficiently coordinate the travel needs of the different people in a pool. So, if for whatever reason, you don’t like the idea of sharing a vehicle with other people, you may need to rethink your priorities. Soon, it will be the best option. In many ways.


(En español, aquí)