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Better Rideshare Systems Could Save Americans $5 Billion a Year

A new report from the Shared-Use Mobility Center highlights the incredible growth, and massive opportunities, in bikeshare, ridesharing, and shared mobility systems

A Divvy bikesharing station in downtown Chicago
A Divvy bikesharing station in downtown Chicago
Tony Webster via Flickr/Creative Commons

Remember when there were just a few options for your downtown commute, or a handful of options to move around the city? In the last decade, the rapid growth of mobile technology and transit options, from Uber and Lyft to the myriad bikesharing services connecting cities across the country, means city dwellers have arguably more choices than ever had before. A new report argues this wealth of options has been, and can continue to be, a huge benefit for cities while providing a significant economic boost.

The Shared-Use Mobility Toolkit, compiled by the Shared-Use Mobility Center, outlines the tremendous growth, and equally impressive opportunities, in the shared transportation sector. A loose term encompassing a number of options, from ridesourcing (Uber) and carsharing (Zipcar) to bikesharing systems and ridesplitting (UberPOOL), the shared mobility sector offers more sustainable transport options and magnifies the effectiveness of existing transport networks.

Renewed interest in urban development, as well as cities and municipalities seeking cheaper and in many cases less carbon-intensive transport options, has helped bikeshare and rideshare programs grow exponentially, and this new report offers data and interactive displays that help outline how cities are utilizing this new transportation technology and how they can expand networks in the future into underserved neighborhoods.

Chicago Benefit Shared-Use Mobility Center

Not surprisingly, the network value of shared mobility can make a big difference, aptly illustrated by the report’s benefits calculator. According to a scenario laid out by the SUMC—increasing shared mobility to cut 10 percent of vehicle traffic in major cities—the country could collectively remove 1 million cars from the road, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 million metric tons every year, all while saving Americans $5 billion a year in transportation costs. That’s a lot of bike trips, but the report argues the cumulative benefits for urban development make expanding this type of infrastructure a great investment.

For city planners or transport geeks, the report is a goldmine, featuring interactive shared mobility mapping tools for 50 U.S. cities, an opportunity analysis tool for identifying areas of growth and ideal areas to expand transport networks, a policy database, and a shared mobility benefits calculator for identifying the environmental and energy benefits from expanding these programs. In short, anybody looking to argue for more bikesharing can find all the analytical ammunition they need to make a convincing argument for expansion.

But if pulling the numbers is too time-consuming, here are six trends identified in the report that make a pretty solid list of why it’s such a good idea to expand these services, in addition to sizable savings in gasoline consumption and a reduction in road congestion.

There’s Room for Growth in Dense Downtowns

In some big cities such as Chicago and New York, which have had bikesharing systems for years, it may seem like there are stations every few blocks. But there is still massive room for growth in busy downtown neighborhoods, which can absorb extra trips, which has the benefit of making transport systems that much more accessible.

Shared Mobility Brings an Economic Boost to Smaller Cities

Shared mobility isn’t just for million-plus metropolises. The report notes that much smaller cities, often built with a walkable core, can greatly benefit from the introduction of shared mobility systems, and even use them as a means of spurring a return to the city center.

Bikes Shared-Use Mobility Center

It’s an Easy Way to Cut Car Ownership

For cities, cars mean infrastructure maintenance, more parking, as well as congestion and pollution. Expanding shared mobility systems and making it easier to take a bike or split a ride to work makes it that much easier for ditch private car ownership.

It Can Be a Catalyst for Inner-Ring Suburbs

The small towns and cities built on the edges of our largest urban areas often have their own dense downtowns, but aren’t as connected to nearby transport options. Expanding shared mobility helps link up these neighborhoods, which have often seen tough economic times over the last decade, and make them more attractive for potential homeowners looking to find an affordable place near downtown.

It Can Even Connect Outlying Suburbs

The further one gets from the city, the more likely cars are the only transport option. Increasing suburban bikeshare options, and building out carshare and ridesourcing services expands the web of transport options in more far-flung areas, helping to spur the development of walkable shopping centers, as opposed to strip malls.

Minority Shared Mobility Data Shared Use Mobility Center

Transport Options Provide an Economic Boost to Low-Income Neighborhoods

SUMC researchers found a stark divide between minority and non-minority neighborhoods in terms of access to shared mobility systems. In Chicago, which has one of the biggest bikeshare systems in the nation, Divvy, In Chicago, only 48 percent of minority low-income neighborhoods had access to carshare or bikeshare, as opposed to 72 percent of low-income, non-minority neighborhoods. A similar discrepancy was found in higher-income neighborhoods. At a time when most minority neighborhoods already have less access to transit options, the potential that shared mobility systems offers, in terms of the possible economic benefits versus the relatively affordable cost of new infrastructure, is a massive opportunity for any city.