TECHNOLOGY

Why the Future of Mobility Depends on Ride-Sharing Technology

In Uber’s vision of the future, people share rides and use public transportation because it’s the better option to car ownership

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BY Jared Carl Millan - 17 Aug 2017

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

To those living in most Southeast Asian cities, it’s no secret that we spend an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic – precious time that we could have otherwise spent being productive. In the Philippines, horrible traffic costs the average commuter as much as 1000 hours traveling to and from work, reports the Inquirer. Indonesia spends an annual 47 hours, while Thailand spends 61 hours, according to the Straits Times.

Meanwhile, the average American spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic, says a Newsweek report. In the UK, says the Telegraph, it’s 32 hours.

Lost hours are not the only downside to urban development – streets are congested, the air is thick with pollution, and every available square meter in cities around the world is being used up. It’s not difficult to imagine that things will only get worse. With the way things are going, it will only be a matter of time before cities buckle under its own weight, implode, go kaput.

This is the very scenario Andrew MacDonald, Uber’s general regional manager for the Latin America and Asia Pacific markets, wants to avoid.

In his talk during the RISE 2017 Conference in Hong Kong last July 12, he zeroed in on the role of ride-sharing and why it is crucial to the development of the future of urban mobility.

It’s not the car

“It’s easy to demonize the car,” MacDonald says. “There is over a billion of them in the world today, close to the population of India and China. The problem isn’t the car themselves but how they’re used individually.”

According to MacDonald, 10% of all the carbon dioxide emissions come from transportation. To make matters worse, that takes up only 5% of the total problem. The other 95% is attributed to idling cars.

“As a result, up to a fifth of land in some cities is dedicated to housing these hunks of steel. Not homes or schools or parks but parking spots and parking lots,” he says.

In the United States, for example, at least eight parking spots are allotted for every car; it covers, in total, an area 12 times the size of New York City. That space can generate around $7.2 billion if used for productive purposes.

“People are pushed into car ownership by urban design. Even in a city like Hong Kong with great public transit, the subway doesn’t get to everyone’s front door. And the cost of building more transit stations is more than most governments in this region can bear.”

Role of ride-sharing

So if it’s not the cars’ fault, then whose is it and how do you address it? To answer this question, the people at Uber revert to cold hard facts.

“What now seems obvious in retrospect was an interesting insight at the time, which was that we had a lot of duplicate trips — trips that sort of start at approximately the same part of the city and end in approximately the same part of the city, and are doing this at roughly around the same time. We started asking ourselves: can we use our technology and make our app match these rides so you can make two or even three, four, five rides become one ride,” MacDonald says.

It would be good for passengers, he says, as the cost of a shared ride is certainly cheaper than the cost of an individual ride. For drivers, it would mean more paying customers in the back seat of their cars. As for cities, it meant “we would be putting more people into fewer cars.”

They asked if people would be willing to share a ride with strangers to save a couple of bucks. What they found was, at the end of the day, what really mattered to people were convenience and cost. Thus, uberPOOL was born.

The concept immediately took off. Today, uberPOOL accounts for about 20% of Uber’s trips, which in turn impacts the environment in a positive way.

“In the first three months of 2017 alone, by pooling trips, we saved over a hundred million kilometers of driving distance,” says MacDonald. “That accounted for 4.9 million liters of gas saved and over 11 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide that wasn’t spewed in the environment.”

The future of urban mobility

No doubt that the future holds more interesting innovation in terms of public transit, especially with driverless cars already being rolled out in experimental waves – but that’s a long way ahead.

MacDonald explains, it was important to launch the ride-sharing service first before self-driving cars. “What I mean by that is, if all self-driving cars do is currently replace individual car ownership today at the same rate, we’re just cementing current congestion problems,” he says. “So we need people to get used to leaving their cars at home sooner, rather than later or frankly not buying a car at all.”

What Uber wants to accomplish is to integrate their unique brand of technology with the more traditional means of public transportation — not to compete with it but to complement it.

“To fundamentally shift the attitude toward individual car ownership we will have to work closely with other shared mobility service providers to tackle this trend together, and we’re optimistic about our willingness to do this and the willingness of partners,” MacDonald says.

In Uber’s vision of the future, people share rides and use public transportation because it’s the better option to car ownership.

“In this future, people have equal access to affordable transportation,” says MacDonald. “They spend less of their income on cars and commutes and less time stuck behind the wheel, and parking spaces are replaced by parks and affordable houses. And this future is within our grasp.”