Published On: Thu, Sep 18th, 2014

Cab-Sharing Could Improve Energy Efficiency and Cut Travel Time

Getting a taxi is certainly a very convenient way of getting around town, since unlike public transportation, it can pick you up where ever and whenever you want, instead of having to walk to a station and wait for the next bus or train, and it can drop you off directly at your destination, so you don’t have to walk an extra distance after getting off at a station. But, on the other hand, taxis are probably one of the least energy efficient modes of transportation, given that usually, they only transport one passenger at a time, while emitting a great amount of greenhouse gases and consuming a lot of fuel, which is why it’s also a more expensive transportation option than mass transit.

Why New Yorkers should share a cab? photo/The Wordsmith via Wikimedia

Why New Yorkers should share a cab? photo/The Wordsmith via Wikimedia

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have set out to come up with a way to improve the efficiency of taxi systems, and have conducted a study to see how travel times and carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced. A group of scientists at MIT, together with researchers at Cornell University and the Italian National Research Council’s Institute for Informatics and Telematics, analyzed 150 million trip records from over 13,000 New York city cabs in 2011, and found that travel time could be reduced significantly if passengers shared a cab traveling along the same route.

According to the researchers, the total amount of time that taxis spend on the road could be cut by an amazing 40 percent, with each trip being delayed no more than 5 minutes. They say that 95% of the trips could be shared with delays of up to 5 minutes, which would lead to considerably lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced operational costs.

The results of the study, that were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that in addition to taxi companies and passengers, New York’s entire public transportation system could benefit from taxi-sharing, as well, since it could help ease traffic congestion, resulting in:

  • more efficient bus system
  • faster service
  • shorter travel times.

But, in order for taxi-sharing to have a truly positive impact, passengers would have to be willing to share rides with complete strangers, and that’s not something that many Americans would gladly do. Carlo Ratti, professor of the practice in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), and one of the authors of the study, explained that it might be difficult to convince passengers to share a cab. “Of course, nobody should ever be forced to share a vehicle,” he said. However, our research shows what would happen if people have sharing as an option. This is more than a theoretical exercise, with services such as Uber Pool bringing these ideas into practice.”

Uber Pool is a feature that was recently introduced by the popular ride-sharing company Uber, which allows users to pick other passengers up along their routes if they are going to the same destination, and split the costs. According to some calculations, this feature can help Uber users reduce their travel costs by about 60%, and it’s exactly this kind of a financial incentive, with the chance to save some money, that can motivate people to embrace the idea of taxi-sharing.

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