Ridesharing: Game Changing for Carpooling and Transit?
As we’ve discussed before, carpooling is the second most popular way of getting to work in Missouri (behind driving alone). However, the use of carpooling has been in steady decline over the last couple decades. Today, 9 percent of workers use carpooling to get to work; in 1980 that number was almost 20 percent.
Transportation experts speculate that slow changes in the way people live and work have driven the decline. More Missourians once lived and worked in centralized geographic areas, reflecting the needs of a manufacturing-based economy and the means of the working class. The dispersal of jobs, residences, and increased ability to afford personal vehicles has made carpooling less attractive. While the decline in carpooling in Missouri may be primarily due to structural changes in the U.S. economy, its renaissance may come in the form of app-based technology created by ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
Services like UberPool and Lyft Line, now offered in test markets around the country, promise to create instant app-based carpooling. Riders request the service (at a steeply discounted price) and may end up sharing their ride with others heading in roughly the same direction. This means that riders do not need to find people to share the ride with or do not need to be going to and from the exact same locations as someone else in a carpool; it can be set up automatically.
If this type of technology were to roll out in Missouri cities, it’s possible to imagine tremendous benefits for residents. On-demand carpooling could allow Uber and Lyft to operate like super-efficient jitneys (small private buses with ad-hoc routes) rather than traditional taxis or carpools. Ridesharing companies have been accused of being yuppie-based transportation, but app-based carpooling (with its much lower pricing) has the possibility of greatly increasing mobility for the disadvantaged, especially those who live in areas where reliable mass transit is difficult, if not impossible, to access. In essence, app-based carpooling has the possibility of boosting not only carpooling, but transit (albeit privately operated) usage as well.
UberPool and Lyft Line represent just some opportunities that new business models can provide for Missouri cities. Yet, in Saint Louis and Kansas City, the attitude toward new ridesharing companies has been and continues to be reflexively hostile. If both cities can remove regulatory barriers, residents will be able to benefit from these new services, and ones as yet undeveloped.