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