Combining Ridesharing & Carsharing: A New “Hybrid” (2007)

by Chris Bradshaw, Peace & Environment News, Winter 2007-2008

The automobile industry doesn’t have a monopoly on the word
“hybrid.”  It actually comes from plant genetics, to refer to
merging two different strains of the same plant species into a
new one, hopefully with the strengths – rather than the
weaknesses – of both.  What the car companies do monopolize is
transportation in the suburbs.

Will that be reversed by spending over a billion dollars on
building light rail to link our urban communities?   In my
opinion, the answer is NO.  I am proposing a solution that better
fits the realities, one that will cost taxpayers almost nothing,
while reducing by more than half individuals’ personal
transportation budgets.  I am working on developing “hybrids”
combining different travel modes.  This article deals with the
one that can be implemented most easily and focuses on the
suburbs.

Most readers will recognize that carsharing – provided in Ottawa
by Vrtucar, and around the world by over 300 other CSOs
(carsharing organizations) – is itself a hybrid.  It combines car
rental with informal sharing of cars, such as, “Can I borrow your
car for a few hours?”  Sharing is really mankind’s oldest
technology.  Carsharing adds more modern technologies: on-line
bookings, GPS, and handheld communication devices like the
Blackberry.

The campaigns to fight auto-dependency depend on people treating
the “alternatives” – walking, cycling, transit, car-rental,
carsharing, ridesharing, taxi, and delivery services – as an
integrated “suite.”   The problem is that they are poorly linked.
It is no wonder that most people who try mixing-and-matching give
up pretty quickly, especially in winter, when children have to be
transported, or when arrival times are mandatory.  So they break
down and get a car, which they then use for just about all their
trips, not for just the ones they originally “needed” a car for.

I suggest combining carsharing with ridesharing as a way to
overcome shortcomings of both:

* Vrtucar’s carsharing in Ottawa has attracted about 700 members,
mostly living in older neighbourhoods, who take turns using 35
cars for trips that average four hours.  It is rarely used for
commuting; and it is not available to those who live and/or work
in the suburbs, where residential and business uses are
separated, making it impossible to find good single carsharing
locations.

Ridesharing, according to the Ottawa planning people, currently
serves about 1400 participants, and it is used mainly for peak-
hour commuting.  It is more common in the U.S., which has used
air-quality legislation to create carrots and sticks to induce
employers and employees to accept a seat in a car driven by a co-
worker when seats in transit are either non-existent for their
commute, or too awkward.

Ridesharing appeals to transportation planners more than
carsharing does, since it focuses on long rush-hour trips.  But
it isn’t catching on.  Besides the problems of finding enough
people with the same regular hours and matching residential and
work locations, there is the fact that, along with all the
“alternative” modes, participants have no access to a car during
the 9-10 hours they are away from home each workday, as they
would have if the brought their own car.  Also, there are issues
about how to share costs, insurance, and schedule disruptions
(holidays, sick leave).

Carsharing could overcome all of these problems since the cars
after all, are shared.  All that would be required is for the
provider to assign two station locations for each car, one in a
residential area and one in a business park.  This would provide
shared cars during the workday to all employees at the business
park, and provide shared cars evenings and weekend in various
residential neighbourhoods.  The rideshare component would
provide the regular shifting of the cars each workday between the
two stations.  That’s right – any person with a membership could
access the cars for personal (or business) trips, not just the
persons participating in the ridesharing.

This hybrid system would reduce the automobile needs of suburban
dwellers enough that the shared car would replace the need for a
second car, in contrast to the older neighbourhoods, where shared
cars replace most members’ only car.   And it reflects the only
sane, practical way to use cars on a limited road system:
simultaneous sharing at peak-hour trips; consecutive sharing off-
peak.  Widespread sharing of vehicles would reduce parking spaces
by over 75 percent and eliminate road congestion.

To avoid peak-hour pressure on the road system, city
transportation engineers – like their ilk all over the world –

push transit as the solution, since it is cheaper than widening
the roads where buildings are tightly packed.  So far so good.
But a bus used only at peak-hour is used only 20 hours a week;
but the buses are designed and priced to be driven 110 hours a
week.  That means writing off a lot of public money.

I challenge OC Transpo to show taxpayers average revenues and
costs per seat per week for their rush-hour routes vs. what it is
for the regular routes.  The average ride is longer than regular
service, and costs include “incentivizing” split-shift drivers
and the fact that rush-hour buses are driven more kilometres out-
of-service than in-service.

In the suburbs, the reality is that roads are all built wider
from the get-go, but they still are not wide enough at
intersections, where there are at least four signal phases and
arriving traffic is spread out over as many as 20 lanes.  The
turning radii and many lanes make crossing distances long for
pedestrians.  Suburb commuting distances are far longer than
distances for shopping, appointments, and events.  OC Transpo
provides only a system for the former, leaving people to use a
car for what are now the more frequent trips, those within a
five-km radius of town centres and regional shopping centres.

And since both the residential and workplace densities are so
low, there is no way to serve the suburbanites’ commuting trips
unless parking is expensive (and that is rare).  This leaves it
uneconomical, even with subsidies, when the smaller buses have 48
seats.  Since jobs downtown and at the few public campuses
represent only about 20% of total jobs (which have both high
densities and expensive parking), 80% of commuting is left to the
car companies to salivate over.

Here’s how the hybrid of carsharing and ride-sharing would work.
I am working on a proposal for the city’s official plan
reviewers, at my own initiative, for a demonstration project.  I
will identify five nodes to link several work-live pairs, say
Kanata North Business Park & Old Kanata, Kanata South Business
Park & Bridlewood, Nepean South Business Park & Longfields, Hunt
Club Park & Ottawa South Business Park, and Chapel Hill &
Sheffield Business Park.  Allowing for all combinations and
permutations, it would require 20 cars (five locations, each
linked to the other four).

That would mean that each business park would have four cars
arrive each morning at their designated workday stations, and
therefore be available to any of the several thousand employees
during the day for personal and business trips (think of how that
will appeal to those using “alternative” modes!)  At the end of
the day, each car would go into rideshare mode again and, after
all passengers have been dropped off and the car returned to its
other station, neighbourhood residents would have four shared
cars available evenings and weekends for personal trips: errands,
events, and outings.  That would give each of the five business
parks and five residential area a sufficient number of vehicles
to allow redundancy of choice.

I am proposing seven-passenger minivans be used.  My reason is
two-fold: a) it will provide extra seats to accommodate more
riders, and b) vans are large and ultra-versatile, making them
appealing for users who, in most cases will have their own small
first car, but who would need access some of the time to a
vehicle for large loads: people and/or “stuff,” e.g., birthday
parties, transporting lumber, bringing home some antique
furniture.  Too often such large vehicles are chosen as a
person’s first car, making it oversized for 95% of the trips it
is used for, burning gas unnecessarily.

Would this compete with OC Transpo?  Not really; it would
actually help them.  Transit doesn’t really serve suburb-to-
suburb commutes in the first place.  And it also doesn’t work very
hard at reducing its biggest competitor: car ownership.  Any
hybrid involving carsharing does, since it provides occasional
access to a car for driving.   We share the roads; why not the
cars, too?

With such a program, it would be easy to accommodate those who
live downtown and “reverse-commute”: get to jobs in the suburbs
going the opposite direction to rush-hour routes.  Those living
downtown can use the shared cars now located near them to
overcome the poor bus service in that opposite-to-peak-hour
direction.  And these cars would add to the others located at the
business parks from the suburban rideshares.

Such a hybrid would require some initial assistance from
government, to get it off the ground, probably in the form of
revenue guarantees for the first six months, and support at
getting access to workplaces to sign people up.  The cost to
someone participating only in the ridesharing would probably be
slightly less than a monthly OC Transpo passes (which, I point
out are subsidized), or $70/month, assuming that four of the
seven seats are filled each day.  To use the minivan individually
at other times would cost about $3 an hour ($3.60 Friday through
weekend) plus $.36/km and cover the gasoline and all insurance.
The neighbourhood location at the beginning would probably be in
a rented space on a main street, near to both some local shopping
and the person doing the driving.

Cf: http://www.vrtucar.com; http://www.ottawarideshare.com

Chris Bradshaw was a member of the Regional government planning
department for 22 years, and started Vrtucar in 2000, selling his
interests to his partner in October 2006.  He was also founder
and former president of Ottawalk (1988-2000).  He lives “car-
lite” with his wife in Sandy Hill.  He can be reached at
hearth@ties.ottawa.on.ca

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