A new term is doing the rounds in transport circles: “shared mobility”. On the face of it, this sounds new and advanced. But how is it different from travelling by bus or train, which is a traditional form of mobility shared? Given our obsession with travelling in private vehicles, we wonder whether people actually like to share.
What exactly is shared mobility?
Shared mobility has been described as “short-term access to share vehicles according to the user’s needs and convenience”. It disconnects “usage from ownership”. In simple terms, you don’t need to own it to use it for short periods when you feel like it.
This sounds much like travelling on a bus or train. After all, 2,000 people can travel in one train that none of them owns. They use it for short periods when they need to.
However, shared mobility goes far beyond traditional public transport, even though it includes it.
Shared mobility can include: taxis and limousines, bike- or scootershare, carshare, rideshare (car- and vanpooling), shuttle and last mile services and autonomous cars, buses and vans.
Each of these forms of transport will move us along. But not many involve much sharing. For example, taxis and limousines, car share and rideshare vehicles usually carry one person or, at most, two.
Average occupancy counts
One of the biggest causes of congestion in cities is the sheer volume of vehicles. As the population increases, congestion will only worsen if people do not find a way to share vehicles more often.
In Australia, commuting vehicle occupancy is now close to 1.0 and, ironically, is lowest for peak hour travel. For comparison, average occupancy in California is 1.44. According to Matthew Burke at Griffith University, carpooling and shared travel in Australia has fallen in recent years. He says we prefer not to share, even though there are only 1.2 Australians on average in each car.
A McKinsey survey found two thirds of Americans prefer to drive their own cars rather than use ride-hailing. Just under two thirds would not even give up their vehicles for free, shared mobility rides.
One academic claims there is a trend towards “personalised sole person mobility”, because modern humans are encouraged to prefer it. How many pictures of autonomous vehicles are there with more than one person in them?
Why don’t we share?
Perhaps one reason we don’t share transport is because we don’t see it as sharing. As children, grown-ups taught us to share our toys out of generosity and kindness. Sharing is an act of generosity, rather than just common use or ownership of things.
All kinds of new terms have popped up around sharing, such as “collaborative consumption”, “sharing economy”, and “shared mobility”. But they are mostly economic and nothing to do with generosity. On the contrary, they all involve payments. They allow people to charge for something (a ride in their car) they might otherwise have given away.
The Conversation gives two very salient reasons why we don’t willingly share in western culture:
- Need to be self-sufficient and remain free of obligations to others
- Value of having a private space in a busy life.
There are few items more indicative of self-sufficiency and privacy than the private car. While these human needs dominate, rosy forecasts about shared mobility may be overrated and overhyped.