No ticket to ride

Urban ridesharing services could be much more effective, efficient and have greater uptake if they were more dynamic and took into account all the major factors associated with running such as a service, according to research published in Progress in Industrial Ecology – An International Journal.

Giovanni Zenezini of the Department of Management and Production Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, and colleagues there and in the research labs of Telecom Italia explain that there are four major considerations involved in ride sharing services. The first is that a third-party provides a matching platform managing the interactions between the two users, driver and passenger. Secondly, the ride-sharing platforms make one-time ride matches that are generally not repeated and take place at random points and at random times. Thirdly, a ridesharing system must be flexible in order to match users at very short notice. Finally, the purpose of the trip being taken is irrelevant to the match.

The team points out that services such as Uber and Lyft match users at short notice and make one-time ride matches, but in reality, they directly match drivers with passengers, without taking into consideration the trip accommodation of either party. In this sense, they satisfy the first three consideration but do not take into account the fourth and so cannot be considered to be dynamic ridesharing system by definition.

Ride-sharing has the potential to reduce urban pollution and emissions and vehicular congestion, nudging cities and towns towards a more sustainable transport solution. These systems exploit the near ubiquity of smart phones and location services, such as GPS in many cities around the world to help drivers and passengers arrange shared rides and broker information exchange and remuneration as appropriate. Ride-sharing schemes face a “bootstrap” problem in that they need a good supply of drivers to encourage passengers to use the service but in order to recruit people to be drivers there needs to be sufficient demand, which means encouraging passengers to use such a service.

“Ridesharing services need to reach a critical number of users, especially in the initial phase, in order to provide a desirable level of matching between drivers and passengers,” the researchers explain. Only then can they pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The team’s case study reveals that essentially an initial boost from advertising is critical to whether or not a new ridesharing service can become viable. Subsequently, penetration rate depends on rapid growth of the driver and passenger communities. Pushing the benefits to future drivers is also paramount as is providing a backup service for passengers as and when the primary service fails to find a suitable journey match.

Zenezini points out that, “Consolidating demand can be achieved when selected group of individuals have the same destination, as in the case of employees of one company or maybe for a special event (e.g. a concert). This means that this selected group of users also share the purpose of the journey, such as commuting or leisure.”

De Marco, A., Giannantonio, R. and Zenezini, G. (2015) ‘The diffusion mechanisms of dynamic ridesharing services’, Progress in Industrial Ecology – An International Journal, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp.408–432.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.