Improving The Daily Commute

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April 26, 2016

There are not many things more disheartening than pulling onto the highway and moving along at a great pace only to see your progress about to be halted by brake lights in the distance that begin to head in your direction like a road-rage-inducing, blood-pressure-spiking tidal wave of congestion. As you sit in the traffic, surrounded by people playing a game of musical chairs with their cars as they try and find the fastest moving lane, you can’t help but wonder, Why hasn’t horrible rush hour traffic been rectified yet?

In some places in the developing world, 16-lane highways sit completely empty, not out of an overzealous approach to expanding, but because of a Boy Scout-like preparedness for future population explosions. But in many places in the United States, that ship has already sailed and it is no longer possible to expand highways to the needs of the population. The next best solution is to eliminate the number of cars on the roads.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, this elimination of cars from the road is exactly what ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are attempting to do. Both companies are attempting to create technology and algorithms to help group strangers as passengers and match distances and times of trips with other people going to similar places or in similar directions. This carpooling strategy can help to eliminate the number of cars on the road while also saving commuters money.

Both companies already have carpool services in place (uberPOOL and Lyft Line) that use private drivers to carry multiple passengers traveling along the same route. Uber says that during its first eight months, uberPOOL has removed nearly 8 million car-miles traveled from Los Angeles roads. The service, which began in August of 2014, has already generated 100 million trips and carries more than 100,000 people a week in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Beyond ride sharing, researchers are also attempting to use automated vehicles as a means for people to commute. The goal is to have these automated cars pick up a group of friends or co-workers, each one at their own house, and then drive along an optimized route coordinated in real time with all other vehicles on the route and in other parts of the city. Think of the car as your personal chauffeur to and from work every day. Even if you get stuck in traffic, not having to be in the driver’s seat means you will be able to work, eat, sleep, or any other number of things that would otherwise be rendered impossible due to driving.

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