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Transportation and the Sharing Economy

WINTER, 2014 -- In October, TSRC Co-Director Susan Shaheen convened the first conference in the United States devoted to “shared mobility,” a term for the smorgasbord of services ranging from carsharing to bikesharing, from private shuttles for tech workers to driver services like Uber and Lyft.

One of the latest twists is RelayRides, which provides free parking at airports in exchange for letting others rent your car while you’re away.
Shaheen’s “Shared-Use Mobility Summit,” held in San Francisco on October 10-11, brought together experts representing local governments, non-governmental organizations, industry, and academics from cities around the world where various forms of shared mobility have become part of the transportation landscape.
Many of those attending had never met their alter egos in other sharing modes: bikesharing experts knew other bikesharing enthusiasts; carsharing innovators knew those in the carsharing world. Shaheen thought it was time they shared information and were given a chance to network.
“They have more in common than one might initially recognize, and by sharing information about their obstacles and opportunities, and collaborating on strategies this could help them to scale and integrate their services more rapidly,” said Shaheen.
Laura Melendy, assistant director of ITS, opened the two-day summit with a comment that may have surprised those who haven’t noticed the almost daily addition of new bikesharing or carsharing schemes in American cities. “Shared use is not coming, it’s here,” she told the crowd of nearly 400 attendees. “It’s turning the corner--from a nifty idea with a few risk takers in the industry putting something on the ground and some early adopters giving it a try--to becoming fully integrated into our way of life.”
At the time of the conference there were 636 public bike-sharing systems operating around the world; 120 new programs had been launched just between January 2013 and the October meeting. Carsharing continues to grow. As of July 2013, there were nearly 1.15 million members (excluding peer-to-peer carsharing services) in the Americas.
Shaheen told the group the time had come to “no longer think of these services--ridesharing, carsharing, bikesharing, scooter-sharing--discretely but rather as a package of mobility services.”
Guest speakers included San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener.
“We are at a crossroads about what cities are going to be like in 20 or 30 years, and growing congestion and parking problems are not sustainable.”
San Francisco was “blessed to have wonderful carsharing options,” he said, adding, “It is important for local governments “to keep innovations happening.”
Others enumerated various reasons for the explosive growth of the shared-use mobility movement:
- Although they are at different stages of life, Millennials and Baby Boomers are attracted to cities but don’t necessarily want to own cars there;
- Access has become more important than ownership to younger people;
- Work patterns have changed just has other activities (such as shopping) have changed—which means transportation must change; and
- Climate change has focused attention on traveling in a more environmentally sustainable way.
Transportation experts from Mexico City, Lyon, France, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Chicago described how different forms of shared mobility have taken hold and evolved in their cities.

Greater benefits by working together

Shaheen, who also teaches at U.C. Berkeley, began studying carsharing 17 years ago. Ten years later she began researching bikesharing, and about five years ago she started compiling data on ridesharing. But the idea for October’s symposium arose as she was delivering a presentation at a bikesharing conference in Washington, D.C. in March 2012.
“I realized that the bikesharing and carsharing communities could learn from one another and ultimately integrate their services. Yet their individual networks seemed to keep them in relatively separate groups whose business plans and program goals were also separate, although similar in many facets.”
She also began to see shared mobility as an evolving, growing, and important part of the larger transportation ecosystem.
Our transportation system has a lot of modes. Unfortunately, they’re not talking and working with each other. We all have too many smart cards in our wallets.
“In our surveys, we were finding that people who use bikesharing were likely to be using carsharing or peer-to-peer carsharing, as well as all forms of public transit and taxis. Yet these new services were not typically integrated with each other or with existing public transportation.”
Finally, she wondered if these services were presented as an integrated package to the user and were more closely linked to public transit, how they might beneficially affect transportation networks, society, and the environment.
It became increasingly clear to Shaheen that an integrated approach to shared mobility was needed, along with policies to encourage it.
As one participant, Timothy Papandreou, Deputy Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told the audience, “Our transportation system has a lot of modes. Unfortunately, they’re not talking and working with each other.” He added, “We all have too many smart cards in our wallets.”

Smartphones and credit cards

The so-called sharing economy in the U.S. has historical roots, dating back at least to the years during and following World War II when both automobiles and gasoline were in short supply. Bikesharing first emerged in the 1960s in Amsterdam. Ride boards were common on college campuses for decades as students sought a cheap and easy way to get home for holidays or visits.
But Shaheen believes that many of these early efforts did not grow in part due to lack of technology for reservations, vehicle tracking, and payment for services, which could often be awkward or challenging.
“In the early days of carsharing and bikesharing, a big obstacle to making these systems work dependably was the payment, matching and reservations.  Once developed, these mobility options began to advance more rapidly.
“Today, if you have a smartphone and a credit card, apps make it so easy. Once you’ve registered, you hit a button and the app facilitates the transaction.” She noted, however, that for those without access to a smartphone and credit card this new form of transportation is challenging.
She also attributes the recent growth of shared mobility to widespread use of the Internet; changing demographics; vehicle ownership, vehicle miles traveled, and licensing trends; modal shifts; and even the recession beginning in 2008.

Moving forward

After the two-day symposium ended, Shaheen tallied what she believed were the most important “take-away” points. They included the following:
-       Government needs to act as a facilitator;
-       Social equity demands pushing some of these innovations to lower income areas and populations;
-       Greater public subsidy is needed;
-       Integration with public transit should be a goal;
-       Parking and insurance remain obstacles;
-       Industry-wide standards are needed; and,
-       Privacy efforts are important.
What surprised her most about this first summit?
“What was surprising to me was the huge response to the summit. I think people were very eager for the opportunity to exchange best practices and ideas and to suggest solutions. Many commented that the dialogue fostered at the summit was long overdue.”
Even before the symposium was over, planning began for a second one in June in Washington, D.C. In addition, Shaheen will be co-leading a workshop, "Innovations in Shared-Use Mobility and Transportation Demand Management," at this year’s Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, DC. on Sunday, January 12, from 9 a.m. to noon.