beijing traffic jam china

Ride-pooling found to be more effective than driverless cars at reducing congestion

Traffic congestion and sustainable transport can be most effectively achieved with centralised ride-pooling services, not self-driving vehicles, a study has found.

Researchers from the Florida Atlantic University used simulations representing city traffic featuring automated vehicle ride-hailing systems and ride pooling. They suggest that fewer vehicles on the road is the most effective solution to traffic problems.

Ride-pooling mobility systems could offer “substantial benefits” if they are able to attain sufficient market share, the researchers said. Moreover, these systems do not require self-driving vehicles but simply centralised fleet coordination, which is achievable with today’s technologies.

“Pooled-ride services will help to address some of the transportation system’s most intractable issues and offer affordable flexibility to those who do not own a vehicle or cannot drive, while reducing congestion at the same time,” said assistant professor Louis A. Merlin.

“The key to successful pooled-ride services is to manage a large number of travel requests centrally, which results in fewer vehicles as well as reduced vehicle miles, travel costs, environmental impacts and congestion.”

Mathematical simulation research shows that the potential for two-passenger ride pooling is close to 100 per cent of trips in most cities as long as the trip demand density is at least 6.5 trips per hour per square kilometre.

“Sharing rides reduces travel costs for obvious reasons like splitting the cost across two or more parties,” Merlin said. “But it goes beyond just those cost savings. When a passenger agrees to a pooled ride, it allows the transportation service provider to economise by using a smaller fleet, substantially reducing capital costs.”

Pooled-ride services also may reduce environmental impacts. The central efficiency measure of any transportation system is energy use per passenger mile. Public buses are on average about 41 per cent more fuel efficient than private vehicles, which have a low average passenger occupancy of just 1.15.

A pooled ride-hailing service with a fuel-efficient vehicle and an average occupancy of two passengers offers an energy efficiency improvement of 66.5 per cent over traditional private vehicles, which is even better than the average bus. Even modest levels of ride-pooling can result in significant energy savings. Increasing vehicle occupancy, especially during peak times, can also reduce congestion.

Implementing pooled-ride services does not require any major technological breakthroughs and the information technologies needed to coordinate the pooling of rides in real-time (or scheduled in advance) already exist.

Pooled-ride services could be integrated with public transit using human drivers and with existing technologies. However, due to strong economies of scale, pooled-ride services require a significant level of market penetration in a concentrated area before realising substantial sustainability benefits.

“The idea of ride-sharing is a complex social issue involving concerns such as safety, privacy and convenience,” said Merlin. “The willingness of people to pool rides depends upon establishing norms of behaviour and developing systems that enable people to feel safe and comfortable.”

The app-based ride-hailing firm Uber already has a pool feature whereby customers get discounted travel in return for sharing part or all of their journey with other riders. The firm recently announced it laying off employees in its product and engineering groups, or around 8 per cent of the total workforce.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles