June 11, 2014

The End of the Private Vehicle?

Maybe for many of us – or at least Farhad Manjoo thinks so, here.


With a near record-setting investment announced last week, the ride-sharing service Uber is the hottest, most valuable technology start-up on the planet. It is also one of the most controversial.


Uber could (accomplish) something that has long been seen as a pipe dream among transportation scholars: It has the potential to decrease private car ownership.

In its long-established markets, like San Francisco, using Uber every day is already arguably cheaper than owning a private car. …  The competition is likely to result in more areas of the country in which ride-sharing becomes both cheaper and more convenient than owning a car …

Paradoxically, some experts say, the increased use of ride-sharing services could also spawn renewed interest in and funding for public transportation, because people generally use taxis in conjunction with many other forms of transportation.

In other words, if Uber and its ride-sharing competitors succeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see many small and midsize cities become transportation nirvanas on the order of Manhattan — places where forgoing car ownership isn’t just an outré lifestyle choice, but the preferred way to live. …

Susan Shaheen, the co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that car-sharing services like Zipcar and bike-sharing services have already led to a significant net reduction of car ownership among users. …

A survey commissioned by regulators in San Francisco found that if taxis were more widely available, people would use public transit more often, and would consider getting rid of one or more cars. …

Ride-sharing services solve this problem in two ways. First, they substantially increase the supply of for-hire vehicles on the road, which puts downward pressure on prices. …

But Uber has done more than increase the supply of cars in the taxi market. Thanks to technology, it has also improved their utility and efficiency. By monitoring ridership, Uber can smartly allocate cars in places of high demand, and by connecting with users’ phones, it has automated the paying process. When you’re done with an Uber ride, you just leave the car; there’s no fiddling with a credit card and no tipping. Even better, there’s no parking.  Compared with that kind of convenience, a car that you own — which you have to park, fill up, fix, insure, clean and pay for whether you use it or not — begins to seem like kind of a drag.

“And if your car sits there five out of seven days, suddenly you’re starting to look at that fixed cost as being a waste,” Dr. King said.


Full article here.

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  1. Seems like a winner to me, but of course ICBC, cab driver unions and TransLink unions will have an opinion here why this is a “bad idea” for MetroVancouver.

    Empty car seats are indeed available aplenty in most cities.

    Nevertheless, many folks will never share a ride or offer one, or just prefer to ride by themselves with their favourite music on. The individual car will still be around, but likely in less quantities.

    Lofty valuation, though .. and competition and resistance (by unions) will be fierce. One assaulted woman among millions of happy customers will make the headlines and lots of new regulations will be imposed.

    How many years did it take for commercial jetliners to become mainstream since their invention ?

    But yes, in 2025 it will likely be mainstream.

  2. 10 years ago I bought a new car. At the time I was heavily involved in sports so the car was needed to get me, my gear and my teammates around Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and sometimes farther afield. Later I used the car to get my kids to daycare (and then took transit downtown). Owning a car just made sense.
    After a couple of moves we’re in a walkable community where the car isn’t needed much. My wife doesn’t even have a driver’s license so the car is idle most of the time. While I’m at work my kids walk, ride bikes, take the bus or get rides from other parents. If she had her license the rare event they can’t get to would be within reach.
    Dumping my car makes no sense. It’s paid for and my annual operating expenses are low. I tend to use it for trips that would be awkward or expensive if I was dependent on a rented vehicle of some sort (Hertz, Modo or Car2Go models).
    I can also say with certainty that replacing it with a newer car makes no sense. I don’t drive enough to justify improved fuel efficiency or interior amenities and a new car would cost more to insure than my old one does.
    Eventually my car will no longer be cheap and reliable enough to keep, but that’s likely so far in the future that I can’t predict what my lifestyle will be nor what the alternatives will look like. Still I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that my current car will be my last.