The rise of shared (use) transport

Dr Nicole Ronald
Dr Nicole Ronald

Last month, Dr Nicole Ronald, Research Fellow in Collaborative Transportation with the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, attended an important conference on transport in the US. In our first guest blog spot for the year, Dr Ronald discusses the highlights.

I am currently the Research Fellow in Collaborative Transportation in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering. My research is based around assisting planners and engineers in decision-making by creating appropriate, effective, and usable computational models of systems and behaviours. I specialise in agent-based modelling of transportation systems.

In addition to discussions about how to improve Melbourne’s infrastructure, there has been a growing interest in innovative transportation schemes in the state. Victorians are moving away from traditional car ownership; some choosing not to get a licence. Systems such as bikesharing, transportation network companies (Uber), and car sharing (GoGet/Flexicar) are reasonably established, while in the past few months there have been trials of services like SuitJet (a commuter bus which changes timetables/pickup locations depending on the users).

In January, a large transport conference, The Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, is held in Washington, DC. Around 12,000 transportation researchers and practitioners attend to exchange ideas, talk to industry partners and discuss plans for future research, as well as hearing presentations from a range of eminent researchers and experts, which this year included the United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The meeting covers all things transport, from design and construction, to planning, and operations; there’s even a transportation history committee.

I was particularly interested in the discussions on shared-use mobility and mobility-on-demand, especially from the US perspective. I was also pleased to see Australia’s own ARRB Transport Research at the exhibition.

Here are some highlights from the discussions at TRB:

Arguments over terminology
Let’s start at the beginning with some definitions of terms. I am in the camp that says Uber is not ridesharing. I prefer the term ‘ridesourcing’ to describe using this kind of service, as proposed by Susan Shaheen and the Shared-Use Mobility Center*.  And taxi sharing (that is, two people not counting the driver sharing a ride, not necessarily with the same origin or destination), is ‘ridesplitting’.

Huge range of schemes and companies
Obviously the US is larger than Australia, so the market is larger and there is more scope for trialling schemes and new companies to enter. At the moment, there is a move towards mixed on-demand fleets: as examples, our fellow researchers from MIT and Fujitsu are simulating mixed fleets of (shared) taxis and minibuses, and Shift in Las Vegas offers cars, bikes and chauffeured rides for a monthly membership fee. Another type of scheme is one way carsharing, which is proving popular in midsize cities (around 1 million population).

Bikesharing continues to expand
There are now close to one million shared bikes in schemes around the world. This is due to large growth in China for bikesharing.

Taxi regulators are coming to the party and reforming themselves
For example, the Taxicab Commission in Washington, D.C. is developing an app which all taxi drivers will be required to use.

So what are the implications for Melbourne? With the forthcoming release of timetable data from PTV, there will be more opportunity for new transportation schemes to connect with existing mass transit schemes. The proposed 24-hour weekend public transport plan will also change people’s travel patterns, possibly requiring more flexible and last-mile options in the suburbs.

From the public service point-of-view, I presented at TRB on comparing shared travel schemes, one with fixed departure times from the town centre (based on a real scheme in regional Victoria) and an ad-hoc, taxi-like scheme. As part of a larger project on mobility-on-demand, conversations with PTV are continuing about suitable areas for these schemes, mainly in regional Victoria and on the fringes of Melbourne, and we are working on decision-support tools for policymakers.

But the big issue is not technology, nor is it really policy — it is people. Is Melbourne ready for these sorts of services? Who will use them? One presentation on users of a taxi and ridesourcing services in San Francisco (Rayle et al.) noted that users tended to be young, didn’t own cars, and would travel more frequently with others; 67% of trips were for a social or leisure purpose. Whether the number of Melburnians required to make these schemes a success are prepared to change their travel behaviour remains to be seen.
* Rayle, Shaheen, Chan, Dai, and Cervero (2015), The App-Based, On-Demand Ride Services: Comparing Taxi and Ridesourcing Trips and User Characteristics in San Francisco, Proceedings of the Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting. published an article on private car sharing this week (Car sharing … the pros and cons).

For even more information, take a look at the Shared-Use Mobility Center.