Friday, June 07, 2013

Media Guide to Carsharing and New Mobility

During the past few years an increasing number of articles are appearing about carsharing and new mobility options, like Lyft, Über, dynamic ridesharing, slugging — you name it. Not all of these writers are familiar with the variations in the service models these businesses offer.  As a result, more a few times these services incorrectly labeled causing cascading confusion as other outlets pick up a story and repost/reprint it.

For example, in the carsharing space, the new one-way/on-demand services, such as Drive Now and car2go, are the darling of the media these days.  While they're both classified as carsharing, more than a few times, reporters have then claimed that these services would deliver similar benefits in terms of parking or VMT reductions, even though there is no research to support it and good reason to suspect the benefits are not likely to be different.  And it's not only journalists who get it wrong, some cities are basing decisions on partnerships based on these incorrect assertions.

In order to try to minimize this confusion I'd like to propose some basic definitions of new mobility services:

Carsharing — user driven vehicles, unattended access usually 24 hours a day, trips are charged by the hour or minute and include the cost of fuel and insurance, i.e. Zipcar.  (Reminder to those doing internet searches - those speaking the Queen's English call this a "car club".)

Flavors of carsharing include
  • Round-trip carsharing (bring the vehicle back to the home station) — i.e. Zipcar; a sub category of round-trip CS is Peer to Peer Carsharing (P2P) where the service rents out privately-owned vehicles and provides insurance during the rental period and shares the revenues with the owner
  • One-way/on-demand carsharing — i.e. car2go; may use floating parking or from stations (like Autolib' in Paris or car2go in Toronto); these services define a large area where the a trip can be ended, although trips outside this zone are allowed;  these zones may be not contiguous.  Both car2go and BMW's Drive Now offer one-way trips to airports in several cities and DriveNow allows one-way trips between Köln and Dusseldorf (with a surcharge).  One might argue that OW/OD would be better classified as self-drive taxi, which I wouldn't argue (see below).
A few companies offer both round trip and one-way service in the same city (but not with the same vehicles), i.e. Stadtmobil in Hannover and CommunAuto in Montreal.  And Zebramobil in Munich does not have reserved parking spaces but defines several block square zones that each vehicle must be returned to (the next driver is texted the more-or-less exact location of the vehicle from GPS data).

If you want to talk categories, I would remind readers that car rental is the original form of shared vehicles service. However, the distinction between carsharing and car rental is that rental companies sell an insurance upgrade as an option and the rates did not include fuel.  While car rental traditionally defined the minimum rental period as one day, in the past a few rental companies have experimented with half-day and even hourly rentals (but you still had to go the office and sign the paperwork).  Now that the rental companies are starting to install wireless unlocking technology in rental vehicles (e.g. Avis On Demand) in order to provide unattended access to the vehicle (e.g. for preferred customers), the lines between carsharing and car rental will be getting further blurred.  Remember that carsharing typically includes insurance and gas in the rates

Carpooling or Ridesharing — This is a trip where 1 or more people share the ride along at least part of the route that the driver of the vehicle was intending to travel.  (If the driver wasn't going in that direction, I would say it would be a taxi trip.)  These services are considered socially-beneficial since they increase the utilization of existing vehicles on the roadway. There are several flavors of ridesharing:

  • Scheduled — typical of commuter carpools
  • Spontaneous or "dynamic" ridesharing — may be hitchhiking or "slugging" to cross a bridge or use a high-occupancy vehicle lane (most notably in Washington DC and San Francisco); or may use the internet/smartphone to link passenger and driver, as with Avego and other services.
  • Vanpool — Essentially a higher capacity scheduled carpool using a minivan or larger vehicle.  However the installation of location technology in a van can enable it to serve spontaneous trips, as well, as demonstrated by V-Ride.
For example, Lyft calls themselves "on-demand ridesharing", but I would join Sean O'Sullivan (CEO of Avego) in saying since the driver isn't already going to the destination or at least in the same direction, it really shouldn't be considered ridesharing but taxi.

Taxi — Traditionally, this a car with a driver, usually taking you one-way to your destination but could be a round trip back to your point of origin.   The flavors of taxi are:

  • Franchised — usually the only service that can pick up people on demand at a hotel or off the street
  • Town Cars — are licensed and usually restricted to scheduled trips
  • Gray Car services — essentially unlicensed Town Cars; now including a whole bunch of new services, such as Über, Lyft, and Sidecar which use smartphone/GPS technology to become the new middlemen in the transaction
These new Gray Car services using internet-connected smartphones is where a lot controversy has erupted in the marketplace.  Of course, the existing players in this space, including government franchise officials aren't happy about these new services since the existing passenger safety and revenue arrangements are bypassed.

But all this nothing to in comparison to the lack of definition of terms in the "sharing economy" space, as this bombshell lobbed by Milo Yiannopoulos, editor of The Kernel lobbed recently.

I hope this exercise has been useful.