The benefits of “real-time” ridesharing are numerous, and begin to address a number of the challenges that hinder greater rideshare participation. The most substantial benefit is an expansion in the types of vehicle trip that are suitable for ridesharing. This added trip flexibility is a distinct advantage for “real-time” rideshare participants.

Expansion of Trip Types Suitable for Ridesharing
Traditional rideshare arrangements often involve recurring trips that are relatively fixed in terms of schedule, take place for months at a time and are generally agreed to a day or two ahead of time. In contrast, “real-time” services are often marketed as allowing users to find ‘immediate’ single trips on very short notice, perhaps as little as 30 minutes ahead of time. This raises an important question about the desirability of these ‘immediate’ trips. Is this type of rideshare offering perceived as valuable to potential participants? A study found that of sixty focus group participants, less than a handful were interested in arranging ‘immediate’ rides (Deakin, Frick, Shively, 2010). They felt that these “instant” trips would be difficult to arrange or simply would not work. Rather, participants were interested in arranging rides on a part time or occasional basis with notification of potential trips well in advance, such as the evening before their commute to work. Deakin, Frick & Shively used the term “reliable flexibility” to describe this participant need. However, a recent survey conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area suggests that rideshare participants are a heterogeneous group (Heinrich, 2010). When asked how far ahead of time participants would like to organize a shared ride, 43% desired organizing their ride 15-60 minutes before departure, or on very short notice. The second most popular response was to organize a trip the evening before it was expected to take place (20% of respondents), supporting to a certain degree the preferences uncovered by Deakin, Frick & Shively.
Based on these important insights, “real-time” ridesharing services could cater to three unique types of rideshare trip; immediate trips, occasional trips with advanced confirmation, and traditional, long-term rideshare trips.

Immediate trips, where a passenger seeks a ride on very short notice, might be undertaken when they have found themselves with few transport alternatives. Perhaps the passenger has missed a transit trip or their original rideshare opportunity fell through at the last minute. In this case, trip flexibility is very high, but the reliability of successfully organizing this type of trip is fairly low.

Occasional rideshare trips are likely to occur among commuters that would like to share rides, but have social schedules that change week to week, or work inconsistent hours. In these situations, participants would prefer to establish rideshare arrangements on a day-by-day, or ride-by-ride basis. Ideally, a “real-time” service would send a note to all participants that have identified themselves as looking for occasional rideshare trips at an established point, say 5pm weekday evenings. Participants would have several hours to confirm their desire to share a ride and their desired travel time. At a certain point, say 7pm, no further ride requests would be accepted for the following morning and matching would take place immediately. Several minutes after 7pm, participants that could not be matched would be notified and alternate travel options would be outlined. For those participants that could be matched, the trip details of the appropriate travel partner would be sent and both participants would have a short period of time to review the trip and confirm their intention to ride with that individual. A similar process would take place around midday for the evening commuting trip. These occasional arrangements provide participants with greater schedule flexibility than traditional ridesharing while providing greater reliability than immediate rideshare opportunities.

Traditional rideshare arrangements, whereby drivers and passengers with similar and rather fixed schedules agree to share rides for a longer period of time, can also be provided by “real-time” rideshare services. In these instances, the importance of the personal characteristics of the driver and passenger are more important than the speed of matching. The reliability of the trip is generally high, but trip flexibility is low.

Decreases Transaction Costs
Rideshare services, specifically those with smart phone functionality that actively contact participants with potential matches, can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to establish a rideshare arrangement. The automatic accessing of profile information remotely, including a participant’s current location, minimizes the amount of direct user input needed. Decreasing these “transaction costs” (time needed to establish a rideshare trip) sometimes comes at the expense of a rigorous review of the profiles of potential rideshare partners. Some providers have attempted to overcome this perceived drawback by providing participant ratings that allow users to quickly determine how previous partners have perceived riding with a given person.

Improves Information Availability for Traveler Decision Making
Some “real-time” rideshare services integrate information from other modes of transportation in addition to rideshare options. In the event that a rideshare match cannot be established, transit or shuttle bus information can be provided to users allowing them to make more informed travel decisions.

Reduces “Stranger Danger” Concerns
While some features of “real-time” rideshare services may actually increase “stranger danger” concerns (such as the automatic matching of drivers and passengers), many services have incorporated features that reduce “stranger danger”. Many services work on mobile devices with GPS that theoretically should be able to track each participant’s position throughout a rideshare trip. If a participant agreed to share this type of information with a rideshare provider, it could be used to track participants and ensure that the agreed upon journey is taking place, and it could be used to validate that a successful shared ride was undertaken for those journeys where a financial transaction was agreed to, or where incentives are being disbursed. If this feature is coupled with ‘social network’ features (such as only allowing shared rides between employees within the same firm), ‘stranger danger’ concerns can be further mitigated.

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