Dynamic ridesharing users will pay less per ride

| April 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

Ridesharing can help combat congestion woes by pairing up people with similar travel plans: Called “dynamic ridesharing,” this alternative doesn’t require new infrastructure, is more convenient than public transport, and can cut pollution produced by people taking multiple vehicles to the same destination. But what about those riders, especially in regions where ridesharing is just taking off, who can’t find a driver heading to their destination?

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Dynamic ridesharing promises to save riders money, but only if there’s enough of them. Image from Christopher “Rice.”

In a new study, researchers Alan Lee and Martin Savelsbergh suggest that a small number of employed drivers could help both riders and cities adopt ridesharing — and even cut customer costs. While most cities battle with congestion, “weaning commuters off private vehicles has, so far, proved too great” of a challenge, note the researchers. Public transport expansion can be pricey, often requires an overhaul of existing road space, and can often be politically challenging. Sharing a ride is a cheaper option that holds benefits for commuters: saved costs and saved time, for example, and, best of all, ridesharing can reduce emissions and traffic congestion.

Would a few employed drivers help cities fill the gap for those riders unable to find a driver going their way? In a recent study, Dynamic ridesharing: Is there a role for dedicated drivers?, researchers Lee and Savelsbergh investigate whether hiring some drivers would improve riders’ experience, and, in doing so, help cities and regions embrace the concept of ridesharing more easily.

Everyone’s heard of ridesharing apps like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other providers, which let their users request rides via smartphone apps; in dynamic ridesharing, multiple people share a ride and head to destinations located near each other. In this particular study, the researchers targeted ridesharing involving drivers who will make their trips with or without a matched rider, as opposed to drivers who make trips just to earn the fare (such as drivers driving for Uber or another similar service).

Dynamic ridesharing can be a successful form of transit, argue the researchers, if only enough people use it; this is particularly true as startup companies spring up and struggle to convert people unfamiliar with the concept. If would-be riders repeatedly request a trip without finding a match, they “are more likely to give up and never try to use the service again (and pass on their negative experience to others)” point out the researchers.

Riders have more to lose than just a ride: While “an unmatched driver simply has no one to share the journey with… an unmatched rider has to hurriedly find alternative means of transport, such as public transport (which might be too slow) or a taxi (which is likely to be expensive).” As a potential solution, rideshare service providers can employ a small number of drivers to transport those riders who haven’t found a match otherwise, suggest the researchers.

The study pinpoints three factors that contribute to whether hiring a small number of these employed, or “dedicated,” drivers is a success or not: the number of rideshare participants in a given area, the flexibility of these users, and the similarity between their travel patterns. Some of the challenges the study addresses include how to balance drivers who are employed specifically for filling in these gaps in service, with the typical drivers who drive for a fare; how to price rides provided by these dedicated drivers; and how to tackle the same issue in different settings.

Urban planning and math buffs can check out the study’s specific formulas here. But for the average app user, one of the most important takeaways is this: A key benefit of large-scale adoption of ridesharing will be lowered customer costs. The study found that, in general, the more app users sign on to a service, the lower the per-ride cost will be. With smaller numbers of users, “the riders will be more dispersed and a dedicated driver has to drive a larger distance between consecutive riders served, which leads to an increase in the per-rider cost.”

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Category: Transportation

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