Here at the Shared-Use Mobility Center, we broadly define shared mobility as transportation services and resources that are shared among users, either concurrently or one after another. This includes public transit; taxis and limos; bikesharing; carsharing (round-trip, one-way, and peer-to-peer); ridesharing (i.e., non-commerical services like carpooling and vanpooling); ridesourcing or ride-hailing; ride-splitting; scooter sharing (now often grouped with bikesharing under the heading of “micromobility”); shuttle services and “microtransit”; jitneys and dollar vans; and more.
This page provides an overview of shared mobility as well as specifics on several relevant applications. For more information, see SUMC’s comprehensive Shared-Use Mobility Reference Guide, which was developed to equip government, business, and community leaders for the rapid changes in the transportation landscape currently taking place in cities around the world. The guide includes recommended definitions for new shared modes of transportation, updates on the latest industry trends, evaluation of changing local government roles and policy choices, and more. You can find the Reference Guide here.
Shared transportation has grown tremendously in recent years as a renewed interest in urbanism and growing environmental, energy, and economic concerns have intensified the need for sustainable alternatives.
Simultaneously, advances in electronic and wireless technologies have made sharing assets easier and more efficient. Automobile manufacturers, rental car companies, venture-backed startups, and city-sponsored programs have sprung up with new solutions ranging from large physical networks to mobile applications designed to alter routes, fill empty seats, and combine fare media with real-time arrival and departure information.
These new services represent innovative responses to the demand for new options, and offer an opportunity to:
- Provide more mobility choices
- Offer last mile and first mile solutions
- Reduce traffic congestion
- Mitigate various forms of pollution
- Reduce transportation costs
- Improve efficiency
- Identify choices for those who cannot afford to buy and maintain a vehicle
- Create accessible mobility options for those with limited physical ability
Shared Mobility Typology
First established in Amsterdam in 1965, public bikesharing has recently gained prominence due to the rapid expansion of bikesharing systems into new locations, as well as the scale of their operations. This expansion is based in large part on both information technology (IT) that has improved bikesharing communications and tracking, and the desire of city governments to move toward sustainable transportation modes. More recently, a number of companies have appeared that provide an entirely private version of bikesharing, usually without the need for docking stations or other investments in largely fixed capital assets.
In 2005, there were only 74 bikesharing systems in the world. Today, there are over 1,000, with more than 200 located in the United States alone. Bikesharing comes in multiple forms, including dock-based; dockless; closed community; peer-to-peer systems; and pedal-assist electric bikes (e-bikes), with a mix of public and private funding models. Bikesharing allows users to take short point-to-point trips using a fleet of public or private bikes distributed throughout a community. Closed community bikesharing is commonly found on college or corporate campuses, has membership limited to community members, and offers mainly round trips. Peer-to-peer bikesharing allows users to rent or borrow bikes hourly or daily from individuals or bike rental shops. Pedal-assist e-bikes (included as an option in some traditional bikeshare systems) offer a bike that includes a small battery and motor that will give the user an extra boost while riding, which can be largely beneficial for hilly city terrains and help those with limited mobility means.
The greatest growth is in bikesharing that is IT-driven, providing real-time information and using technology to assist in rebalancing demand for bikes throughout a community and integrating bikeshare services into mobility as a service (MaaS) apps. The largest bikeshare programs are publicly owned and contractor operated, but some programs are run by nonprofit organizations, such as Nice Ride Minnesota and Biki in Honolulu.
Bikesharing has the potential to play an important role in bridging some of the gaps in existing transportation networks, as well as encouraging individuals to use multiple transportation modes. Potential bikesharing benefits include: increased mobility, lower transportation costs, reduced fuel use, economic development, health benefits, and greater environmental awareness.
The ultimate goal of public bikesharing is to expand and integrate cycling into transportation systems, so that it can more readily become a daily transportation mode for commuting, personal trips, and recreation.
Scooter-sharing, a newly rapid phenomenon in shared mobility growth, is provided by private operators and include fleets of scooters that are dockless, electric, 2-wheeled, and are ridden while standing. These scooters are usually available to users by the minute or hour, and are typically used for one-way trips.
Carsharing is a service that provides members with access to an automobile for short-term – usually hourly – use. The shared cars are distributed across a network of locations within a metropolitan area. Members can access the vehicles at any time with a reservation and are charged by either time or distance. Carsharing provides most of the benefits of a personal automobile without the costs of owning a private vehicle.
Car-sharing services offer several models, including:
- Point-to-point or one-way
The most common model of carsharing operation is round-trip, which requires customers to borrow and return vehicles at the same location. However, point-to-point systems – which allow customers to pick up a vehicle at one location and drop it off at another – have experienced significant growth in recent years and are quickly gaining ground on “traditional” carsharing.
Peer-to-peer carsharing, where vehicle owners monetize the excess capacity of their vehicles by enrolling them in carsharing programs, is also growing in some areas.
Carsharing offers many benefits, including decreasing the need for personal car ownership. For instance, a University of California, Berkeley report estimated one carshare car displaces approximately nine to 13 private vehicles. Other benefits include extending affordable access to transportation, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and encouraging residents to use other forms of transportation, including walking, cycling and public transit.
Over the past three decades, carsharing has grown from a collection of local grassroots organizations into a worldwide industry. Recently, the lines between carsharing, carpooling, and ridehailing have begun to blur as automakers, tech companies, and other stakeholders pilot new services that combine several mobility offerings into one platform.
Traditional ridesharing includes carpooling (grouping of travelers into a privately owned vehicle, typically for commuting), vanpooling (sharing of a ride in a van by commuters traveling to or from a job center) and real-time ridesharing services (matching of drivers and passengers based on destination through a mobile app before the trip starts, and through which the passenger pays a share of the trip cost).
Ridesharing essentially fills empty seats in vehicles, which better realizes vehicle occupancy potential and reduces the number of vehicles on the roadway. As such, ridesharing can be a powerful tool to address problems of congestion, emissions, and fossil fuel dependency.
Ridesourcing or ridehailing providers such as Uber and Lyft —codified in California law and elsewhere as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs)—use online platforms to connect passengers with drivers who use personal, non-commercial, vehicles. Ridesourcing has become one of the most recognized and ubiquitous forms of shared mobility. Uber, for example, is currently valued at more than $60 billion and operates in 80 countries and at least 300 cities worldwide. Because, at least initially, they have been less regulated than the traditional taxi and limo services they compete with, TNCs have also generated some controversy and have been banned by some governments.
Increasingly, these companies are pursuing something more akin to traditional ridesharing, which involves the sharing of one vehicle by multiple riders to reduce vehicle trips. UberPOOL and Lyft Line, for example, allow drivers carrying a passenger to add additional passengers riding a similar route. These services are known as “ride-splitting,” since the passengers then split the cost of the trip. TNCs have also launched bus-like services that mimic traditional public transit, such as Lyft’s Shuttle service in some major cities.
Transit – publicly owned fleets of buses, trains, ferries, facilities, and rights of way – with fixed route local and express service is the foundation for much of shared mobility. There is great untapped potential for transit agencies to integrate with, or offer, shared modes to increase access to transportation and lower costs. Both large technology companies and emerging app entrepreneurs are working to develop integration platforms that cross these modes. For example, several mobile apps currently on the market aggregate information about various transportation options available in a given city so that users can choose from a menu of real-time transportation options to get to their destination, including transit, taxi service, carsharing, or ridesharing.
Microtransit/Flexible Shuttle Service
Microtransit is a service model that sits between traditional fixed-route transit and the services provided by taxis and new, tech-enabled models like Uber and Lyft (transportation network companies, or TNCs). It is a demand-responsive, commuter-focused service that typically uses ad-hoc pickup and drop-off points, within a few minutes’ walk of multiple customers, and generally within limited service zones. This shared mode uses vehicles smaller than transit buses but larger than the passenger vehicles commonly used by TNCs. The hallmark of microtransit is the ability to flexibly create routes and stops in response to customer demand. In practice the services tend to converge on a limited number of routes between dense areas of high demand, and most operate only at weekday peak hours. Microtransit is a relatively young and untested concept, and transit agencies are in the early stages of experimentation. As such, clear-cut best practices in areas like scoping, procurement, level of service, fare treatment, and evaluation are still nascent. However, the model is far enough along to glean questions and frameworks that are important for transit agencies considering this new model.
Microtransit vendors include Transloc, DemandTrans, Via, Chariot, and Transdev.
Taxis and Limos
Taxis and limos are regulated for-hire vehicles that pick up passengers via street hails or prearrangement. With taxis, the fare is meter-based. Jitneys are privately-owned vehicles that operate like taxis or buses, but often without official licenses. Jitneys traditionally have been used for transportation in low-income neighborhoods, which often have limited access to public transportation and poor service by taxi cabs.