Shared Use Mobility: The Next Big Thing in Transportation

Transportation Consultant


Regional Employee Transportation Coordinator at Naval District Washington

We are at the beginning of an important new phase in personal transportation that is both disruptive and revolutionary. It is a new way to access transportation services by those who are propelling the sharing economy where access rather than ownership is the new norm. From sharing housing to services to clothing and now to vehicles, a spurt of start-ups in the private sector are offering new ways to travel using the latest in technology. Shared Use Mobility describes a wide variety of new technology-enabled services and tools that give instant access to new services and travel information while complementing traditional modes like fixed route transit. These services include bikesharing, carsharing, new forms of ridesharing, technology-enabled shared ride services, new private forms of transit and travel itinerary services that ease the selection of travel options with a click of the mouse or a tap on your smartphone.

These developments are occurring at a time when the ownership and use of vehicles is declining. For example, per capita vehicle use has declined about 9 percent from 2004 to 2012 and VMT remains below what it was in 2007.1 The most notable group who are showing less interest in driving are the Millennials, adults age 16 to 34, among whom average driving miles fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The number of 19 year olds holding drivers licenses fell from 87 percent in 1983 to 69 percent in 2011.2 Millennials heavily use social media, are more interested in social connections than the acquisition of assets, and have been negatively impacted by the great recession where jobs are difficult to find and income is modest, at best. Although Millennials are not the only ones participating in the sharing economy, they appear to appreciate this new way of accessing services and have less difficulty in giving up driving for sharing rides, walking, biking or taking transit.

Among Shared Use Mobility services, bikesharing, is having phenomenal growth. Since 2007 when the first technology-based system was introduced, there were over 30 systems in 2013 including in cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, DC.3 And there are about 20 new systems being planned for this year.

Bikesharing systems use an array of interconnected bike stations usually located in urban areas that allow a person to rent a bicycle at one station for short trip to another station. Most Bikeshare systems offer various types of memberships from annual to daily plans to a per trip fee.

Early research indicates that the most common use is for work and school purposes. Most trips are of short duration of up to 20 minutes for distances of about a mile or so. Some of the systems show noticeable peaks during morning and evening commuter hours. While many users perceive this service as an enhancement to transit there is little evidence of increased transit use.4

Carsharing is another major player in the Shared Use Mobility space. This service allows a member to “rent” either a fleet-based supplied vehicle or, more recently, a privately owned vehicle on a temporary basis. There are several commercial Carshare providers including Avis that owns Zipcar, Car2Go, owned by Daimler, Enterprise Holdings that acquired the nonprofit carsharing service iGo in Chicago, Hertz and Dollar Thrifty. Although there are a number of nonprofit organizations that provide Carshare services, approximately 96 percent of users subscribe to one of the commercial services.5

The newest form of carsharing is based on peer-to-peer exchanges in which individuals offer to share their private vehicle with others for a price. Such services as RelayRides and Getaround match willing vehicle owners with people who need to use a car on a short-term basis. As of 2012, there were 10 such services.6

Carsharing has been shown to impact vehicle ownership and improve the ability of members to live a car free or car light lifestyle. Research conducted by Dr. Susan Shaheen at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley has shown that for each carsharing vehicle, nine to 13 vehicles have been taken off the road. In addition, carshare users decrease the number of cars they own and some become car free.7

Ridesharing is another hot-topic in Shared Use Mobility. Traditional ridesharing, carpooling and vanpooling, is often arranged through an online ridematch service for work trips. With carpooling, the rideshare arrangement is incidental to the trip and usually involves no payment to the driver although sharing of some operating costs like tolls and gas do occur. Vanpooling requires a different type of commitment to justify the costs associated with operating and leasing a van. Generally, vanpooling occurs for work trips of about 35 miles or greater and involves six people or more passengers to make it economical though a single vanpool may have as many as 15 riders. Participants share the cost of the lease including operating expenses. A recent report identified 638 distinct ridematch services around the country that support traditional carpooling and vanpooling.8

Two other forms of ridesharing are tapping into nontraditional users that focus on real-time matching for one-way trips, offering new possibilities for filling empty seats on the roads to move people more efficiently. Casual or instant carpooling that first developed in Northern Virginia, and is locally known as “slugging” arose in the mid-1970’s with the opening of the Shirley Expressway (I-95/395) south of Washington, DC and included a reversible high occupancy lane. Commuters currently drive to a number of locations, mostly bus park and ride lots, near entrances to I-95 to be picked up by drivers who want to use the high-occupancy vehicle lane for a quicker trip into DC. Slugs do not necessarily use carpooling for the return trip but have the ability to use transit back to the originating park and ride. Today, slugging serves approximately 5,000 commuters each day in the DC area, and is also available in San Francisco and to a lesser extent in Houston.9

The most recent development in ridesharing is dynamic or real-time ridesharing that mimics the “slugging” system by moving the ridematching location to the virtual world. Smartphone users can virtually request a non-recurring, one-way ride with anyone headed the same direction.

The Federal Highway Administration has been funding several pilot programs with Carma, a software company that offered one of the first of these apps. Through Carma, individuals who are interested in providing rides enroll online or through Facebook. Carma has set up a fee schedule (less than the IRS mileage reimbursement rate for businesses travel) to provide an incentive for drivers by allowing them to recover some of the cost of their trip. Carma receives a small portion of the driver’s payment. These fees and the matching arrangements occur through the software so that no money is handled during the trip. Also, the driver and passenger(s) are encouraged to rate each other so that future users can select matches that they feel comfortable with and result in a greater sense of security. Carma provides services in several major cities.

The newest development is a group of new start-ups that began less than two years ago in San Francisco and is now expanding into metro areas across the country. Services like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, cater to any point-to-point travel within a region. Using an app for the iPhone or Android phones, users can register with the service as drivers, passengers or both. Drivers are screened and an excess liability insurance policy of usually up to $1 million is provided. Drivers receive a predetermined “suggested donation” for providing the ride. The service takes a portion of the driver’s fee. Payments are made electronically so that no cash passes hands at the end of the trip. Drivers and passengers are free to accept or refuse a ride. They are required to rate each other. In the case of Lyft, for example, the service acts more like a social arrangement, with the passenger and driver exchanging the mandatory Lyft fist bump and the drivers’ cars display a pink mustache on the front bumper for easy recognition.

However, regulators have begun to look closely at these services since drivers are making trips just to earn the fare and appear to operate more like taxis. For example, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) determined recently that these new technology-based platforms where drivers receive payments are not ridesharing services, entitled to an exemption from regulation, but are more akin to commercial services like taxis subject to regulation for safety and other purposes. However, the PUC decided that these new services deserved some room for development and created a new category called Transportation Network Companies (TNC) that is subject to fewer conditions to operate. The details of how these requirements will impact these services remains unclear and details remain to be worked out.

Another variation in the transit area is bus pools. One example of this is the Google Bus, one of a number of technology and biotech company bus services for employees who live in San Francisco and work outside the city. RidePal provides buspools for some of these employers. Buspools reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gases by providing a good alternative to driving alone. While they are becoming part of the local transportation system, there is little regulation of their use creating some community criticism regarding congestion, the perceived impact on local housing costs and concerns about elitism. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) has been trying to find ways to accommodate these private services within the context of the MUNI system, the use of its streets and the communities’ concerns.

Finally, a service that encourages people to share rides and use alternatives to driving is the itinerary service or aggregator that allow a person to choose among several transportation options for a real-time trip. One such service is RideScout that started in 2012 in Austin, TX and has now expanded into Washington, DC. This service incorporates a variety of shared use service mobility options including transit. Using an app for iPhone or Android devices, a registered user inputs the destination and is given a choice of available options including bikesharing, carsharing, walking, transit, available ride sharing services like Sidecar and taxicabs. The app gives walking instructions to access any of these services from the traveler’s location, cost, and trip times among others. One can also book some of these services through the app. RideAmigos is another service that offers a comprehensive online platform for a variety of clients to provide multi-modal trip planning encouraging carpools, transit and other alternatives and can be adapted to include incentives and impact calculations.

The Shared Use Mobility revolution in new services is bringing to market affordable and accessible transportation. At a time of constrained fiscal resources, Shared Use Mobility can change the current paradigm of driving versus transit by offering a wide variety of new ways to travel more conveniently. The challenge is how to integrate these services into the existing transportation network and to do it in a way that provides equity and recognizes the interests of all parties.


  1. Pace & D. Pickrell, May 23, 2013 Presentation, Volpe Center’s Transportation Trajectories.
  2. Baxandall, “Moving Off The Road”, USPIRG, pp. 3, 2013.
  3. Baxandall, T. Dutzik & T. Madsen, “A New Way To Go”, USPIRG, pp. 22, 2013.
  4. Shaheen, “Understanding From Shared-Use Mobility Research”, Presentation, October 2013.
  5. Shaheen & A. Cohen, “Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook”, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, University of California, Berkeley, Summer 2013.
  6. Martin, S. Shaheen & J. Lidicker, “The Impact of Carsharing on Household Vehicle Holdings: Results from a North American Shared-use Vehicle Survey”, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, University of California, Berkeley, 2010.
  7. Shaheen & N. Chan, “Ridesharing in North America: Past, Present and Future”, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, University of California, Berkeley, 2011.
  8. Oliphant, A. Greenberg, R. Boenau & J. Raw, “Fill Those Empty Seats”, Public Roads, Federal Highway Administration, Vol. 77-No. 2, September/October 2013.

About the Authors

Larry Filler is a transportation consultant specializing in shared use mobility services. He is a founding board member of the Ridesharing Institute. He was formerly the CEO and founder of TransitCenter, Inc., where he created the nation’s first transit benefit program and led the development of the federal tax benefit. Mr. Filler has served in several senior level positions at various transit agencies and transportation departments in the New York metro area. He received his J.D. from Rutgers University Law School, a M.S. from the University of Chicago, and a B.S. from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

Marc Oliphant is the regional employee transportation coordinator for the Department of the Navy, Naval District Washington. He studied at Brigham Young University and Virginia Tech and wrote his master’s thesis on dynamic ridesharing. He is also a board member of the Ridesharing Institute.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eno Center for Transportation.

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