Is It OK to Get in a Car with a Stranger? Risks and Benefits of Ride-pooling in Shared Automated Vehicles

Research Team: Angela Sanguinetti (lead), Ken Kurani, and Beth Ferguson

UC Campus(es): UC Davis

Problem Statement: Estimates of the effects of deploying large fleets of shared automated vehicles (SAVs) vary from large negative effects (more and longer trips) to large positive effects (more accessible mobility and reduced traffic, emissions, and energy use). For example, if SAVs replace private light-duty passenger vehicles without an increase in riders per vehicle, and make travelling easier and/or more affordable, vehicle-miles-travelled per capita may increase. In addition, if light-duty passenger SAVs become an affordable and convenient alternative to public transportation, public transit users may shift to SAVs, putting more vehicles on the road. Thus, the actual impacts of SAVs will depend, perhaps quite heavily, on users’ willingness to share rides (i.e., ride-pool). There are many factors that could inhibit potential SAV users’ willingness to ride-pool, such as sacrifices in comfort and travel time, as well as perceived and real threats to physical safety and privacy. There is currently little knowledge about what to expect regarding ride-pooling in SAVs. Who will be willing to share rides, with whom, and under what conditions? What can be done to encourage ride-pooling in SAVs? Answers to these questions are required to produce credible estimates of, and maximize, the potential for SAVs to affect passenger travel and its economic, energy, and emissions consequences.

Project Description: We currently know little about what to expect regarding ride-pooling in shared automated vehicles (SAVs). Who will be willing to share rides, with whom, and under what conditions? This report details the efforts and results funded by two seed grants that converged on these questions. A broad-based literature review and review of automated vehicle (AV designs) leads to the articulation of potential risks and benefits of the pooled SAV experience and potential design solutions and supports, respectively. Risks could be related to compromised personal space, security, control, and convenience. Design features that might mitigate these risks include large windows to afford a high degree of visibility into and out of the vehicle, spacious seating and legroom (relative to larger shared vehicles like buses, trains, and planes), access to a remote human administrator who can observe inside the vehicle at all times, easy means to program private stops that are nearby one’s ultimate origins and destinations (to maintain privacy), and options for large groups or associations to “own” a particular vehicle (e.g., a female only SAV). Benefits of pooled SAVs could be related to restoration and social capital. Design features that could support these benefits include themed interiors; quizzes, games and ambient entertainment; augmented reality windshields; flexible seating allowing riders to face each other; accommodations for food and drink; ensuring broad access; and making SAVs a canvas for local art. The reports ends with a proposed research agenda highlighting the importance of qualitative engagement with consumers to understand the issues related to: switching to pooled SAVs from various dominant travel modes (e.g., private cars, ride-hailing, public transit); leveraging analogous modes (e.g., pooled ride-hailing) to study the potential of pooled SAVs; and conducting experiments to understand the influence of various features of the pooled SAV experience that will impact consumer adoption. This report can inform SAV designers, policy-makers, private transit service providers, and other stakeholders about behavioral and design factors that will impact uptake of pooled SAVs.

Status: Completed

Budget: $35,910

Policy Brief(s):