The world is becoming ever more urban. Every year, more and more people move to increasingly dense and spread-out cities. This means that commuting to work, school, or to participate in social functions is part and parcel of modern life. But it also comes with huge costs to society. Car ownership is expensive, and traffic congestion is growing around the world. Then there’s the climate impact: Transportation is responsible for about 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and — unlike other major contributors — this figure is rising rapidly.
It is clear that the traditional American model of using single-occupancy, private vehicles to get around is not sustainable or equitable. There is hope, though, that the coming years will bring about a societal shift in how residents get around cities. In fact, it’s already starting, as around the world innovative grassroots and tech-driven efforts are re-inventing the commute, giving users lower costs through shared and sustainable alternatives to driving. Here are a few of these projects, and how they are changing the dynamics of commuting:
Unlike the other items on this list, casual carpool is neither a new nor a technology-driven idea. In practice, it’s quite simple: Passengers go to a designated spot where drivers can pick them up and bring them to a predetermined destination. In some places, riders contribute a nominal amount — perhaps a dollar or two — to cover gas or tolls, while in other places the time savings from using carpool lanes is enough benefit to drivers.
The two cities with the largest networks of casual carpool locations are the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C., where it is called slugging. There are efforts to bring this informal system to more cities, including Miami and Houston.
Waze Carpool and Scoop
While casual carpool is great, it is also limited to a few cities’ downtown-centric routes and requires a critical mass of people to function. What if carpools could be arranged anywhere there are potential drivers and passengers? Enter carpool apps such as Waze Carpool (now owned by Google), Scoop and GoCarma, which aim to expand carpooling by connecting riders and drivers through smartphones.
Waze is connected to the popular navigation app and allows riders to request rides at any time. It is currently available in major cities in five countries: Brazil, Israel, Mexico and the U.S. Scoop is more focused on the rush-hour commute, requiring riders to schedule trips in advance, and then pooling people together using algorithmic matching. It is available in several U.S. cities. These apps are not meant to provide income to drivers, with reimbursements capped at about 50 cents per mile — enough to cover gas and expenses — and still be affordable to passengers.
Liftshare is a self-funded carpooling social enterprise in the U.K. that has had a remarkable impact. It counts 700,000 members on their platform, and has prevented 250+ million road miles of solo driving. Liftshare also has partnerships with big organizations to help them save money, reach environmental goals, and improve recruiting and retention. Rides can range from short commutes to cross-country trips, with fares based on distance.
Gig Car Share
Gig Car Share is a free-floating car share service started by the non-profit American Automobile Association, currently operating in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, California, with an all hybrid and electric car fleet. Gig worked closely with the cities to set up “HomeZones,” where users can leave cars in nearly any streetside spot for free. Rates are based on how long one drives, with caps for hourly and daily usage, and with incentives given to get drivers to go to places where there are not enough cars.
TaxiStop is a Belgium-based platform that started back in 1975, and has evolved to become a network for the modern sharing economy, even launching mobile apps in 2014. They arrange carpooling, on-demand car sharing, and small-group car sharing through their website, with the goal of reducing car ownership and the negative environmental impacts of driving.
Citymapper and Zipster
Today, residents of many cities have far more transportation options than ever before: bikeshare, mopeds, scooters, buses, trains, car sharing, and ride-hailing, just to name a few. Figuring out which is the best mode to take is a challenge.
Enter third-party transit apps like CityMapper (Europe and North America) and Zipster (Asia). These seamlessly tell you the best way to get from point A to point B, mixing different modes. Perhaps it’s a bike share to a train station, followed by a scooter trip; or a ferry to a bus. By empowering users with information, these free apps allow for more innovative, fluid choices when it comes to designing a commute using share, public and private options.
One card for everything
Closely connected to all-in-one transit apps is an all-in-one payment system. Contactless smartcard payment systems allow users to pay for a variety of transit modes through the use of stored-value credit, making it easy to switch between systems without worrying about paying each time.
You’ll find the most advanced transit card networks in Asia. Taiwan’s EasyCard can be used to ride buses, trains, high-speed rail, and even unlock bikes at bike sharing stations. You can use Hong Kong’s Octopus on all public transit, and also to pay taxi fares. In Japan, the national network of city cards is integrated, meaning you can use your Tokyo Suica when riding trains in Fukuoka, or your Osaka ICoca on Nagoya’s subway, making travel around the country simple.
These are just a few of the many projects that are transforming how people get around cities. Alongside the growth in shared mobility and new investments in public transit, this means that commuting in the future will likely look far different than the past — better for people, communities and the planet.