Sharing must work in a transport future

31 Jul 2017

Corinne Mulley and John Nelson

Doesn’t everyone think that sharing is a good idea – especially for everyone else? Of course there is always an element of “I know that if everyone else shares I won’t have to”.

“Sharing reinvented through technology” or collaborative consumption is increasingly seen in many walks of life. Most people are aware of Airbnb, even if they have no first-hand experience. A low tech approach works too; for example, a local café where a sign offers something off the menu in return for organically grown produce from an allotment.

Transport in the future is predicated on technology change and a willingness to participate in collaborative consumption. Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV), and here we are talking about cars, are promoted as solving the ills of the city but if they are used like personal vehicles are used to-day we can look to a future of greater congestion fuelled by empty cars entertaining themselves whilst their owners are otherwise occupied.

Returning to sharing and some thoughts about the different sorts of sharing that can exist in the transport domain as illustrated by the two types of car sharing that already feature in Sydney’s road-scape. GoGet, Hertz24/7 and Popcar are return to base commercial car sharing schemes where membership of the scheme takes care of the formalities of driver eligibility and insurance with booking and payment being facilitated by Apps. The evidence suggests that commercial car sharing substitutes for second cars.  For the future success should be judged more by the number of first cars they replace if we are to take sharing seriously. Commercial car sharing contrasts with peer to peer car sharing (in this case Car Next Door) where personal asset sharing is the basis, i.e. an individual making their car available to someone for rent. Again, it is App based but more informal with no local government support for parking spaces, as with the commercial schemes.

It is interesting to observe that Car Next Door (only four years behind Airbnb in terms of year of foundation) has a considerably smaller market presence. Both Airbnb and Car Next Door are about sharing personal assets so why the difference? Car ownership is characterised by owners forgetting the sunk costs of ownership and so having a travel behaviour that is linked with the low marginal cost of use. Car Next Door is a high marginal cost mode because it includes some contribution to the fixed cost. Airbnb is more similar to its hotel competitors by virtue of the Airbnb and hotels having a high marginal cost of use. Is this the reason for the difference between Airbnb and the Car Next Door or is that a car asset is mobile whereas a property based asset is fixed? Does the difference just boil down to Airbnb being something you purchase intermittently whereas Car Next Door rental would be part of everyday life? Against this the Car Next Door could benefit from greater use through familiarity but we do not see this.

In the future the culture of sharing has to change and this includes citizens’ attitudes towards transport assets (particularly cars). Is it a problem that we need to share something which in Australia is very close to everyone’s heart? Or is it a lack of visibility? Particularly as peer to peer car sharing is not commercially branded? Like flexible transport services (where the more flexible a service the less visible it is to the community) marketing is crucial to success. It seems like peer to peer suffers from a lack of self-promotion.

We know from mobile phone use and App use that the younger generation is more technologically focussed. Their use of twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat demonstrates their willingness to share data for which they show a much less risk averse profile. Spatially, younger people are more likely to use GPS data to announce their location. We know that mobile devices for young people are more important to them than cars. This segment of the population will show by example how to share resources in a way that makes CAV a sustainable outcome.

The million dollar question is whether the younger generation’s willingness to share will be enough to encourage responsible use of CAVs when they achieve critical mass? Currently, the outcome does not look promising. Governments need to invest in understanding how the sharing culture needs to develop and how citizens can be incentivised to take part in collaborative consumption for resources which are mobile and find ways to incentivise greater take up of sharing resources when faced with the dichotomy of using a personally owned asset with low marginal costs versus a high marginal cost good when rented.