Advances in information and communication technologies, combined with smartphone applications and location data from global positioning systems, are enabling a new breed of mobility services with which to arrange for rides by private cars, vans, and buses as well as public transit, and for short-term rental of cars, scooters, and bikes. The availability of these technology-enabled shared mobility services has reinvigorated demand for ridesharing and vehicle-sharing services. While it is too early to predict how these ventures will evolve and which of them will endure, the availability of on-demand transportation services through a smartphone, easily paid for by debit or credit card, is causing many people to rethink how they go about their daily travel.
The term “shared mobility” as used in this report denotes sequential sharing of vehicles among users, as with taxicabs and companies such as Uber and Lyft, which provide exclusive rides to a series of passengers, and of bicycles or vehicles used serially by subscribers, as in bikesharing and carsharing.1 The term also encompasses concurrent sharing, whereby passengers headed to a common general
1 As of this writing, Uber offers ride services in a range of vehicle options that vary in price. The main options include UberX (midsize car), UberSUV (sport utility vehicle), UberXL (larger sport utility vehicle for larger groups), UberBlack (luxury limousine or sedan), and UberTaxi (SUV with standard taxi-metered rates and fees and automatically added gratuities). Other services include UberFamily (a vehicle with carseats, for an added fee), UberAssist (with a driver who can help older or impaired users), UberWAV (wheelchair-accessible vehicles), and UberPool. The regular version of Lyft is supplemented with Lyft Line, which allows riders to share a trip and its cost, and Lyft Plus, which provides a six-passenger vehicle for groups traveling together.
destination split the cost. Examples include traditional ridesharing or carpools and carpool-like trips offered through such services as UberPool and Lyft Line, and microtransit, which offers services in small buses or vans to groups of individuals who are willing to pay more than the cost of public transit but less than that of a taxi. More complete descriptions of these services are provided in Chapter 2.
Shared mobility certainly is not new. In the past, it represented a larger proportion of overall travel in the United States than is the case today: carpooling was more common among commuters, some people routinely hitchhiked around the community or country, and college campuses offered ride boards for students wishing to travel during breaks. Shared mobility declined for many years as single-occupant vehicles became the dominant form of ground transportation in the United States. More recently, however, it has experienced something of a renaissance, as described in Chapter 2.
Widespread use of shared mobility services has historically been impeded by the logistical challenges of finding another person (or people) going the same way at the same time, growing personal security concerns, and the ready availability of automobiles in U.S. metropolitan areas. These challenges raise questions for travelers: Can I get a ride to a desired destination when I want to travel? Who can give me this ride? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Will I be safe riding with a stranger? As described in Chapter 2, new technologies and business models are solving these problems in innovative ways and resulting in rapid growth in shared ridership. Technology advances have made it easier to arrange and pay for the use of the new services, created opportunities for service providers to manage their fleets efficiently and provide near-immediate responses to service requests, and created new opportunities for concurrent use of these services, with potentially far-reaching implications for the transportation system.
As these services evolve and expand, they are likely to affect other transportation modes—public transit, private vehicles, and perhaps even cycling—along with urban development, the economy, and the environment, to degrees that are difficult to project with any accuracy. Nonetheless, many analysts have not hesitated to speculate,
suggesting impacts that range from declining single-occupant trips and vehicle sales to reduced congestion and urban parking requirements. Other projections include long-term changes in travel behavior as these new services shift private vehicle travel from the high-fixed, low-variable costs of car ownership to the low-fixed, high-variable costs of car- and bikesharing and ride hailing.
The recent rapid expansion of technology-enabled mobility service companies—such as Uber and Lyft, as well as a host of others—that provide applications to link drivers and their personal vehicles with passengers has garnered headlines and raised critical questions for policy makers and regulators. These new transportation services must somehow be incorporated into long-standing regulatory frameworks built around the business models established for taxi, sedan, and limousine services (for-hire transportation). In the process, a number of policy issues arise:
- Whether the new services should be regulated, and if so, how, to what extent, and toward what public policy goals regulations should be structured;
- The employment status and compensation of workers in the for-hire (taxi and limousine) sectors, including transportation network company (TNC) drivers;
- Personal security for drivers and passengers, and safety for drivers, passengers, bikeshare users, and pedestrians;
- Insurance requirements for TNC drivers and carsharing and bikesharing users; and
- Access to app-enabled mobility services by those lacking credit cards and smartphones, as well as other equity concerns that have arisen.
Such issues are being faced in some form in urban areas around the United States where multiple local and state jurisdictions, with sometimes overlapping authorities, are attempting to oversee these services. The policy approaches developed are often diverse and sometimes conflicting. The federal government has been minimally involved because responsibilities for the oversight of these new services reside, for the most part, with other levels of government.
In response to the policy issues emerging from the rapid innovation and growth in technology-enabled mobility services, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Executive Committee sought to learn more about these services and how they are used; how they relate to established transportation modes; and what implications they have for future policy development, regulation, transportation planning, and infrastructure investment. A committee of leading experts was appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a consensus study and produce a report on these issues with the following charge:
Examine the growth and diversification of technology-enabled mobility services and explore the implications these services have for consumers and existing transportation services. The study will identify policy, regulatory, and other issues and opportunities that policy makers will need to consider as they plan for and regulate these services, including the existing regulatory structure for taxi, limousine, and transit services. Priority areas of research to inform public policy decisions will also be identified.
This report includes discussion of a variety of mobility services, among them carsharing, bikesharing, taxis, and new app-based ride service companies (TNCs). However, the committee focused its efforts on the services that are generating the most controversy and posing the greatest public policy challenges for policy makers. Therefore, this report places greater emphasis on issues related to taxis and TNCs than on those related to other mobility service industries because of the current high levels of controversy and regulatory conflict associated with the former.
The committee held four meetings during the course of this study to gather information and develop this report. Industry representatives and experts on urban mobility services and their ramifications were invited to the first two meetings to share information and discuss the issues from multiple perspectives in a public forum. The committee cast a broad net to gather information for the study, given that
the rapid rise of technology-enabled mobility services has occurred only in the last few years. Data and research on these services, while increasing, are far less developed than is the case for other modes of transportation, in part because the rapidly growing and controversial TNCs have been sharing relatively little information with the public. Given the fast pace of new developments in this area, the committee also drew upon news articles and blogs from reputable sources for context and information, but used its judgment in interpreting what that information means for understanding the issues that face policy makers, the mobility service industries and workforce, and consumers.
This report consists of nine chapters. Chapter 2 describes the effects of technology on transportation in general, the innovative services relevant to this report, what is known about the use of these services, and their potential impacts. Chapter 3 explains the existing regulatory structure of the taxi, sedan, and limousine industries and the challenges to that existing structure presented by the rise of TNCs. Chapter 4 presents an economic framework for addressing those challenges. Chapters 5 through 8 then review specific issues facing shared mobility services: Chapter 5 examines labor and employment issues; Chapter 6 addresses personal security for drivers and passengers and safety for the public; Chapter 7 reviews insurance issues; and Chapter 8 looks at issues of access and equity. Chapter 9 presents the overall conclusions resulting from this study and the committee’s recommendations for policy makers and regulators who must consider whether and how to regulate these new services to serve public policy goals, and outlines research needs.