Traffic Jam

Carpooling Back to the Future

The New York Times recently posted an article summarizing some history and current issues around ridesharing (or carpooling, whichever term you prefer).  Carpooling can actually take on various forms, including “slugging” (informal carpooling between strangers), “flexible carpooling” (designated spots for travelers with no pre-determined travel partner), and “dynamic carpooling” (enabled by smartphones). Worth noting is the fact that the once-popular practice has been increasingly rare in recent years.  As jobs decentralized and the private automobile became more affordable, built-in incentives for ridesharing went away.  As the Times reports, the percentage of workers who carpool has dropped in half since the 1980s, with about 12 percent carpooling today. There is, however, hope for the practice.  First of all, incentives are coming back in different forms.  HOV- and HOT-lanes are common in American cities now, encouraging drivers to share rides in order to by-pass congestion in the single-occupancy vehicle lanes.  This saves time and gas (the price of which is starting to creep up and (factoring in inflation) is starting to approach the price of gasoline when ridesharing became more formalized in the 1970s and early 80s).  Additionally, the advent of the internet, social networking, and smart phones has provided the technology for organizing previously-unacquainted travelers.  Several companies in TechCrunch’s Crunchbase are working to provide solutions – companies that Stockholm hopes will apply for the Living Labs Global Award.

Will it be enough?  I guess first we have to figure out what “enough” really means.  As those in the transportation world are well aware, technological change can only take us so far; beyond that, we’ll need true cultural and behavioural change to achieve the full personal, environmental and social benefits of reduced private automobile use.

-Terra Curtis

Having a Car does not mean Having Mobility

Credit to the Associated PressThe historic technological advance in personal transportation has led us from two human-powered feet to four petroleum-powered wheels, with everything from bicycles, horses, and steam-driven trains in between.  And, while at one point the departure from the use of horses in cities was actually a reprieve from poor environmental conditions (imagine tons of horse manure and rotting carcasses inviting flies and rodents in dense inner cities), today the cesspool has returned. From August 14 to August 24, 2010, Beijing suffered one of the worst traffic jams ever.  According to several reports, a 100-km stretch of highway west of Beijing, which had suffered high congestion and slow speeds throughout June and July, finally hit the tipping point when a combination of goods delivery, road construction, and Great Wall tourists all converged at once.

It wasn’t all bad news; some reported remarkable civility among drivers stuck in its grasp.  It also provided a boost to local economies.  Enterprising locals took to the highway on bicycles selling food and water.  From the looks of things, demand was high and supply was low, meaning prices could be nearly anything the seller chose them to be.

So, in the story of advance in transportation, where does this leave us?  There have been several reports of the forthcoming Chinese 3D Fast Bus, a tall vehicle which literally straddles the lane beneath it, effectively creating an upper deck travel lane without the upper deck infrastructure.  As many have suggested, couple the Chinese ability to act fast, produce and pilot prototypes with these dire straights in goods and personal transport, and we (the rest of the world) are left to the leadership of China.

-Terra Curtis