There’s an App for That: MTC Partners With Private Sector to Expand Carpooling
MTC is teaming with a variety of innovative transportation services — including Carma, Scoop and, most recently, Lyft — to encourage carpooling. Carpooling is the quickest solution to easing congestion and rewards commuters with toll-free access in Bay Area Express Lanes and reduced toll rates on state-owned Bay Area bridges. While sharing rides is a great way to cut commute times, most people find it inconvenient to find fellow carpoolers to double or triple up for their commutes. Technology is now removing that those barriers.
“The unused seats in most drivers’ cars represent the biggest untapped source of transit capacity in the Bay Area,” explained Melanie Crotty, MTC’s director of Operations. “We see the partnerships with carpool apps as a great way to put that capacity to work. We hope they will make people give it a try and see how easy and beneficial carpooling can be.”
"With each new carpool app, we see technology removing barriers to carpooling through automated communication, automated payment, transparent meet-up logistics and flexible arrangements," said Barbara Laurenson, MTC's Rideshare Program project manager.
"Our goal is to make it possible for commuters to carpool to work cheaply, flexibly, safely and sustainably," said Rob Sadow, CEO of Scoop. Commuters MTC has registered for the Scoop app have taken more than 1,300 trips since its partnership began in October 2015. "MTC is one of the most important, trusted sources of information for commuters across the Bay Area. MTC’s promotional support for the Scoop carpooling solution helps more commuters make a simple switch to how they approach their daily commutes," Sadow said.
Scoop works mainly through employers to target commute trips, but anyone can use the app. Mike Tsai, human resources director at Sandisk, confirms Scoop's appeal. “Our employees have found using Scoop makes it easy to connect and find carpooling arrangements that meet changing needs."
Lyft, the most recent addition to MTC’s partnership program, launched their new carpooling service, “Lyft Carpool,” in April. This service prompts drivers about the availability of riders, while tapping in to a large existing user base of Bay Area passengers who have taken millions of rides on the Lyft platform.
"Lyft Carpool is an exciting step in the fulfillment of our longstanding mission to fill the empty seats in cars on the road," said Emily Castor, director of transportation policy for Lyft. "Tailor-made for commuters, this product will match drivers already on their way to work with passengers going the same way, all for a low price to offset the driver’s commute costs. We’re proud to be working with MTC to help solve traffic congestion in the Bay Area.”
MTC’s longest-running partnership is with Carma, which recently launched a new product in collaboration with City CarShare called Carma Zoom, where people can book seats between specific origins and destinations using City CarShare vehicles. During the day, these vehicles are available as regular car share vehicles for mid-day meetings or errands at employer centers before they are used again for the evening commute.
"It is encouraging to see so many products launching to get people to carpool," said Laurenson. "The challenge is getting a critical mass of riders and drivers using these apps, and the more apps there are, the more challenging that may be. Encouraging drivers to offer rides at a ‘carpool price’ is key."
Also key is making the apps easy to use. In the case of Lyft, the system will use its location servcies to learn drivers' travel patterns, and will send push notifications when travelers who match a driver's regular route are seeking rides. "Now with Lyft Carpool, drivers don’t necessarily have to interact with the app to find out about potential passengers,” she said.
MTC is also looking forward to seeing how carpooling could affect a future with driverless cars. Lauren Isaac, manager of Sustainable Transportation for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, and MTC’s Rideshare Program contract project manager, said, “Government can play a role to ensure that driverless cars reduce congestion, instead of add to it, by fostering a carpooling culture now.”
MTC entered into its three partnerships through a request for partnership process and is still reviewing additional partnership opportunities with other carpool matching apps.