As ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft faced backlash for producing more urban congestion with single-passenger trips, “pooled service seemed to offer a more city-friendly product,” and autonomous vehicle producers also designed multi-person pods in preparation for a future of shared-ride transit. But with shared services largely on hold since the start of the pandemic, David Zipper, writing in Bloomberg CityLab, asks whether shared transportation can recover.
Back in February 2018, the nonprofit World Resources Institute unveiled the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, a set of guidelines that “included a commitment that autonomous vehicles would offer only shared trips within urban areas,” according to Zipper. Since then, “a slew of evidence suggests that those who can afford to hail a vehicle would really prefer to have it to themselves,” which is “worrisome news for public officials who hoped shared rides could help curb congestion — and for mobility companies who’ve pointed to sharing as a reason their products wouldn’t condemn cities to gridlock.” While “sharing trips with strangers is the basic principle behind riding public transportation,” sharing rides in private vehicles feels different than larger conveyances like trains or buses. “In a bad situation, you’re more likely to feel trapped in a ride-hail vehicle,” making some users more reluctant to use shared rides even outside the public health risks posed by the pandemic.
Without policies to incentivize shared travel through increased convenience or lower cost, the dream of autonomous shared transit could devolve into a growing number of “individual AV trips grinding urban streets to a halt.”