The impact of ride sharing apps on urban mobility

7 April 2017


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Reported by Paul Henry

How will disruptive technology impact urban mobility in the future?

The future of urban mobility was discussed at a recent CSaP event for Policy Fellows held at the offices of Uber in London.

CSaP Policy Fellow Guy Levin began the meeting with a short presentation on the impacts of ride sharing apps on the volume of traffic in urban areas. Guy made the case that these services could reduce the volume of traffic in urban areas by alleviating the need for personal car ownership whilst also providing mobility to groups who do not have easy access to public transport.

Transportation is a siginificant source of carbon emissions all over the planet, which has resulted in the local authorities of many cities attempting to disincentivise private car ownership. However, reduced personal mobility can have a significant impact on social outcomes, such as access to employment and education. Planning for the future of urban mobility balances the need to reduce the amount of cars on the road whilst also maximising access to transportation.

The presentation prompted a discussion amongst the policy fellows about the vast array of people and services which could be impacted by the emergence of ride sharing apps. There was significant discussion as to whether such a disruptive technological advance can be complementary to existing public transport networks, and whether services with lower prices were keeping people off buses and bicycles rather than out of cars.

The conversation then moved to data management. Digital services such as Uber can collect a large amount of information about customers and their habits, as well as the flow of vehicles around the road network. There were many points raised about how access to such data could be managed whilst preserving personal privacy.

Self driving cars were mentioned throughout the course of the event as a further disruptive technology which may become commonplace within the next ten years. This opened up lively discussion about whether fast-paced technological improvements could change the way services are delivered to the public, such as having a constantly mobile fleet capable of responding to medical emergencies.

We also touched on recent controversy regarding whether consumer services based on smartphone apps are affecting the way people are employed, with a move from traditional working patterns to more flexible, independent work. This is having a major impact across the world, from the UK, where it has been negatively percieved, through to developing nations where it can be a beneficial step to getting paid work in a difficult employment environment.

It was a thought-provoking session which left attendees considering a new set of questions for public policy, such as whether services driven by consumer demand (such as ride sharing) might be in conflict with policy interventions (such as reducing traffic capacity in favour of cycle lanes).

Guy Cohen

Privitar Ltd