Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kaohsiung 2010 Papers: On ride-sharing and efficiency

When I was at university the only way I could afford to get home was to share a car with someone. I set up a notice board in the student union to help me find a lift home. The notice board quickly became popular and every weekend there were lots of people offering and seeking lifts.

Ride-sharing: One way to use our existing road capacity more efficiently.

- Ali Clabburn, Founder and Managing Director of (UK)

In 1998, 2 weeks before Google was born and several years before many other social networking sites such as Facebook were launched, I set up the - a clever website which helps people find others travelling the same way as them so they can share their journey. What started in a university bedsit has grown steadily and we now run the UK's national network of over 600 ride-share schemes for communities and businesses. Membership just reached 390,000 and the system saves around 55,000 car trips every day - making it the most successful ride-share system in the world.

I am passionate about sharing and believe that if we make better use of what we have then we can make huge reductions in the resources we need. Seeing the success of liftshare has given me hope that we can change behaviours and some simple, low cost solutions can enable sharing and play a very important part in minimising waste.


Ride-sharing is when two or more people travel together by car for all or part of a journey.
(N.B. There are many definitions of ride-sharing and other words used to describe the same or similar activity (car-pool, lift-share, car-share (UK)).

The Theory:

Our roads are congested. But they are congested with cars and not people. Most cars on the UK roads have just one person in them and there are millions of empty seats being driven around our roads.

Research has shown that around 50% of drivers would consider sharing their car journey if they could find someone suitable to travel with. But most people do not know anyone who makes the same journey at the same time.

Cars are often portrayed as the cause of all the congestion and pollution and it is true that a typical car with one person in it is very inefficient. However, as soon as a car has 2,3 or 4 people in it, it becomes a relatively low cost, low emitting and efficient way to travel. It can be more efficient to travel in a full car than by bus.

Every year, for the last 50 years, the distance travelled by car has increased and the average number of people in each car in the UK fell. It fell from a peak of 2.30 to 1.56 people per car. This was caused by combination of rising incomes, falling motoring costs, more 2 income households and a general trend in human behaviour away from sharing towards individualism.

The average car occupancy varies depending upon the type of trip being taken. Occupancy is highest (~2ppc)(People Per Car) for Holidays and Educational Travel and lowest for Commuting and business travel (1.2ppc).

The theory is that by setting up an effective ride-share system and promoting it to the population it will be possible to encourage and enable many more people to find others travelling the same way as them so they can start sharing cars.

In Practice:

There have been lots of attempts to set up and promote ride-sharing systems but nearly all of these have failed to reach the critical mass of membership required to make the system sustainable.

However in the UK the liftshare system has overcome many of the barriers and has been growing exponentially since 2003.

The success of the liftshare scheme is due to a number of key factors, primarily:

* As a social enterprise we have focussed on helping people rather than making money
o This has kept our overheads low and helped us to engage with the public
* The system is set up as a network of groups
o All groups use the same core functionality, keeping costs low, but we can provide additional bespoke branding and tools to any clients. As a network we have a shared vision, use a shared system, we can share marketing and bring in efficiencies of scale and shared success.
o We encourage feedback as all improvements benefit everyone.
* liftshare runs lots of successful schemes and, as the cost of setting up a liftshare scheme is far lower than if a client was to build their own, we can help all our clients minimise their costs and maximise their savings.

The results:

As fuel prices have risen and individuals and businesses have become more concerned about travel costs, there has been a surge in the demand for ride-sharing. At the same time the improvements in internet technology have enabled us to greatly enhance the usability and functionality of the journey matching and monitoring tools.

Liftshare continues to grow rapidly. 1 in every hundred cars on the roads in the UK is now a liftshare member.

The most interesting statistic from the DfT's latest annual report is that in 2008, following 50 years of decline, the average car occupancy rose suddenly by 2.5%. The increase will have saved 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 by reducing car mileage by 18 billion miles.

Keys to success.

* An identified problem (e.g. parking/CO2 target/budget issues)
* Stakeholder support
* To set targets and provide leadership and resources
* Effective marketing and promotion
* The right kind of software
* An understanding that it is a social project and not a technical project
* Case studies

Does ride-sharing represent good value for money?

There have been a number of recent research projects carried out into the benefit cost ratio's (BCR) of the various transport alternatives. It is possible to estimate the associated financial benefits of a public ride-sharing scheme using standard calculations based on miles saved.

The most recent research concluded that the average public scheme invests £9,000 a year in supporting ride-sharing. They save 2 million car miles/year and 700 tonnes of CO2 - giving net benefit of £670,000 and a BCR of around 75:1.

Organisations also benefit by promoting ride-sharing to their staff. It helps them to

* Solve parking issues,
* Reduce costs,
* Reduce business mileage and CO2
* Recruit staff

A site employing 2,000 staff is likely to reduce car
parking costs by between £100,000 and £300,000 per annum
- DfT research in 2002, 'Making Travel Plans Work'

The Yorkshire and Humber research also identified that investment in ride-sharing was very cost effective - at just 1.7p/km saved (5 x better than most other smarter choices options).

International evidence to support ride-sharing

Before the advent of the internet, most ride-sharing schemes tended to be private - running locally on an organisation's intranet. There were also some international examples of public schemes such as 511 in the US and Midtfahrzentral in Germany. However since the internet boom of the late 90's there has been a proliferation of companies providing either/both public and private ride-sharing services. Internationally there have been in excess of 200 different providers entering the market - however very few of these have been successful.

In 2009, MIT carried out some research into many of the services available from the US and across the world. It was clear from the research that there had been a large number of attempts and varying approaches to encourage ride-sharing. It was encouraging to see that the UK liftshare network was shown to be more successful than any of the other services - many of which had benefited from very significant investment in software, marketing and often infrastructure (HOV lanes). During our research in 2007, we identified that some US states spent in excess of $2,000,000/year on licensing software, operating and promoting their car-share services. Despite the relatively higher costs and lower ROI, they each still felt that the investment was providing value for money.?

How important is technology?

When we take into account that 60% of adults in the UK share cars informally and that <2% of adults are a member of a formal car-share scheme, it is clear that there is both demand for ride-sharing and that formal ride-sharing can play a much greater role in helping more people to share cars more often. Most ride-sharing has occurred without the use of any technology - but simply by 2 people who know each other conversing between themselves that they can share a trip.

When individuals do not know someone to share with, then they can either travel alone or use a formal car-share scheme to find a match. Formal car-share schemes can range from a simple notice board in a public place to access databases on a company intranet, to fully accessible extranet, or internet sites.

Web technology and the internet provide a very good and low cost way to provide individuals with the opportunity to register their trips and search for matches. For any scheme to be successful it will require a critical mass of members and registered journeys. The data on any database needs to be clean and up to date data, the user interface needs to be simple and there needs to be sufficient marketing activity in order to get the critical mass of users.

Accessing ride-sharing via PCs and the internet has proven to be the most effective interface but technology is racing forward and some solutions are now appearing on new interfaces such as applications on mobile phones. Whilst use of such applications remains tiny in comparison to general internet use, it is expected that by the end of 2011 mobile web services will be much more popular. The geo-locating tools available will also enable more accurate trip tracking and journey authentication.

In conclusion:

1. Ride-sharing is available to everyone
2. Formal schemes available to those unable to find a match
3. There is public demand for more ride-sharing
4. There is a clear business case and lots of evidence to support it
5. The costs of supporting it are comparatively very low
6. There are many obvious benefits of more people sharing
7. The UK has the most successful network in the world
8. Technology, marketing and monitoring are all important

Will ride-sharing work in Asian cities?

Let's talk about it here in Kaohsiung.

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About the author:

Ali Clabburn is the Founder Managing Director of liftshare. He has spent the last 10 years dedicated to helping communities to travel more sustainably. In 1998 whilst in his final year at University, 2 weeks before Google was born, he set up - a clever website which helps people find others travelling the same way as them so they can share their journey. What started in a university bedsit has grown steadily and now he and his team of 20 run the UK's national network of over 600 liftshare schemes for communities and businesses. Membership hit 300,000 in 2009. Liftshare currently saves 40,000 car journeys a day. He is sure that if we make better use of what we have by sharing then we can make huge reductions in the re-sources we need.

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