Smart Para-Transit + Car Sharing = No Reason to Own a Car

Here is part four of Mark Gorton’s essay, "Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation."


The Smart Para-Transit system I have described would be
capable of replacing many of the automobile trips in the New York area. However, by itself, it would be insufficient
to completely replace the need to own a car for many New Yorkers. If Smart Para-Transit were paired with a car
sharing program, most all driving scenarios would be covered, and this system
would eliminate the need for car ownership for all but the most driving-intense
New Yorkers. Zipcar is an example of a private
car sharing service.

The interface between the car sharing system and the
customer would be the same as with the Smart Para-Transit system. The user would simply go to a website or a
cell phone and enter what sort of vehicle they would like and the length of
time they need the vehicle. The user
would then be told the location of a nearby vehicle that meets their
needs. A premium service that drops the
car at the customer’s door could even be provided at an extra cost.

For example, if a family wanted to travel up to the Finger
Lakes region for a week, Smart Para-Transit would be a very costly way to meet
their travel needs. But by taking an
available car from the car sharing pool, the family would have a vehicle that
met their needs for as long as they need it. Freight hauling vehicles could also be made available for sharing for
times when people need to move large objects.

Many New Yorkers own cars but only use them
infrequently. Yet these cars need to be
stored all the remaining time. As a
result, New York has an enormous parking shortage. Parked cars are not in use, yet they take up
precious public space. Chronic parking
shortages leads to cruising for parking which results in extra congestion,
pollution, noise, and increased danger for children and senior citizens. In addition, parked cars take up valuable
space that can be used for non-transportation purposes such as kids playing,
benches, flea markets, outdoor cafés, etc. Car sharing allows each car to be kept in service a much higher percentage
of the time, and as a result, fewer cars are necessary to serve the same number
of trips.

Fewer cars mean less demand
for parking, and a smarter use of scarce public space. By creating a system that makes more optimal
use of the vehicles in the system, New York would receive an enormous spatial
dividend that would allow a whole host of public activities to flourish.

  • Can well behaved dogs travel on Paratransit? This is a major barrier for my wife to let go of her car.

  • Car Free Nation

    I think this is an interesting idea, and I think the next step to verify whether this would work is to take a look at an area of the city, say downtown Brooklyn, where a small number of car services serve the majority of the trips. (I believe Arecibo and Brownstone have the most cars) You could then track the trips to see where people were leaving from and where they were going.

    I’d be curious to see if there are enough people going to similar places at similar times for this to work. My intuition tells me that only during rush hour would you find this pattern, but in off hours, there’d be quite a long wait for more than one trip per vehicle. In that case, people would still need to own a car (or rely on other methods during the off hours), but it’s precisely the off-hours trips that need to be made easier, because once people own a car they take more trips…

    I also wonder if this would work with families. My family of 5 currently calls a car service when we need to get somewhere close with all of us. It seems like we’d be causing everyone else some annoyance, if they had to 1) wait while we loaded our stuff, and 2) deal with the noise of 3 children in a very enclosed place.

  • We already have a paratransit system w/o adding any more vehicles to our streets–it’s called TAXIs. Yellow cabs have GPS systems-albeit, not the kind London taxis and NYC “black cars” have that ID a cell phone caller’s location for pick-up. (For the outrageous $5,000 taxi owners paid for their tracking systems, they should get a free upgrade.) New York just needs to establish a group riding fee and zoned fares. This was developed with the taxi industry in 1986 (“Reducing Taxi VMT in the Manhattan CBD,” Konheim & Ketcham for NYCDOT): Fares for groups of three or four going to a common zone would be prepaid at 50% of the metered fare, 65% if service became oversubscribed.

    Everybody wins. With three riders at 50% of the average metered fare, drivers make 50% more; with 4 riders they make 100% more. Riders get a high grade service for half price; a couple pays no more than at present. And the public benefits from more taxi availability without more taxis. With these fares, 79% of drivers and about half the riders surveyed would “definitely use” such service. This assumes groups are preformed when the taxi arrives, mainly to save time. If the system adds 5 minutes to the trip, rider use drops to a third. Thus, there needs to be designated places (not necessarily taxi stands) where groups could form.

    We could dust off and update the 1986 proposed pilot program for designating peak demand locations for testing group riding pick-ups:
    – west side of Park Avenue from 4:00-7:00 pm
    – all midtown hotels between 7:00 and 8 pm, and
    – Theatre District west side of Broadway from 10:00 – 11:00.

  • david

    As a car owner with a private spot, I would not miss owning a car, but the main issue to me would be the ease of obtaining the car. Now I can drive to my country house and walk out my door and have the freedom of on the moment travel. I would not want to walk miles to smart car or have to jump thur hurdles to get one. In an odd way having these cars available might lead to more people driving.


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