Ridesharing goes social

Combining commuting with social media could change the way we travel – with a move toward collaborative activity-based ridesharing

Uber app mobile phone

Companies like Uber and Lyft have pushed the concept of ridesharing. Photo: Pexels

The concept of ridesharing has existed for decades, but big names like Uber and Lyft have pushed the idea further, allowing us to hitch a ride in a private-car instead of a cab.

However, not all these services are real ridesharing, but rather a private taxi service.

“Real ridesharing, like Zimride and BlaBlaCar, match multiple travellers into the same car and each traveller, including the driver, specifies when and where they are going from and to”, explains project researcher Yaoli Wang, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne.

“Even UberPool’s model of sharing rides is rather ridesourcing since the driver does not start with a specified travel destination in mind.”

Despite all the hype, and the commonly accepted benefits for traffic, the environment and the private purse, there are reasons why ridesharing is not as popular as it could be. Mainly because people are reluctant to detour for others, trust strangers, or to share personal space.

Disruptive technologies such as driverless cars carry the potential to change the paradigms for ridesharing. Cost models will change the perceived need for a private car, and mobility will be seen as a service rather than a dependency for a driver.

Ridesharing is the future of urban travel, and has been the focus of study for the Computational Transportation Science group at the University of Melbourne for more than a decade.

A new perspective

Today, Uber’s ad reads “We ask only one question: Where to?”. This is also the question posed by almost every ridesharing application at the moment. But is this really the best question to ask, given all the reluctance to take up ridesharing? It certainly doesn’t address trust or flexibility.

The team at the University of Melbourne is now asking the question: “who do you want to share a ride with?” rather than “who can you share a ride with?”. And a follow-up: “what do you want to do?” rather than “where to?”

Could the answer for mainstream acceptance lie in social networking?

Friends and trust

Busy commuters don’t want to sacrifice too much detour time for a stranger, and many don’t want to share with a stranger at all. It’s these problems that have led to the development of a new ridesharing concept - social network-based ridesharing.

Social network-based ridesharing applies preferential matching with ‘friends’ within your social media network, even if this increases travel time when compared to rides with strangers. Meanwhile, the option to share with strangers is not removed, but becomes a fall-back when your preferred matches cannot be found in time.

In this approach, sharing rides with strangers also has the positive potential of building new friendships, introducing people who travel similar routes every day but never say a word to each other and changing their perceptions of sharing space with a stranger. Social network-based ridesharing could change people’s perception of sharing a space with this stranger, thus increasing and broadening their own social network.

Read the full story in Pursuit