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On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing

An On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System is a computerized control system designed to connect riders, in the moment, with drivers who could give them a ride.  No pre-existing schedules would apply.  All connections would be arranged at computer speeds in real time.

 

Riders and drivers, when coming on-line, would communicate their locations and destinations through cell phones and a speech capable interface to the central traffic representation computer. The computer system, in real-time, would optimize the ridesharing arrangements and accordingly route the travelers.

 

The world’s most enormous system of roadways has already been built.  The world’s most extensive inventory of rolling stock has already been purchased.  Experienced operators abound.  For little more than the price of a supervisory control system and a public relations campaign, the public could have what might well be seen, in effect, as an additional transportation system.

In General, How Would It Work?

Drivers and riders would communicate with the system using cellular phones.  They could be speaking any language since they would be talking to an artificially intelligent multi-lingual computer.

 

Each traveler, when coming on-line, would be assigned some computing power. This can conveniently be thought of as a virtual personal computer (see Ridesharing System Diagram in Figures). The personal computer (pc) would have some variety of an artificial intelligence (AI) program to optimize utility to the traveler.  Using voice interpretation and speech synthesis, the AI program would optimize communications.  It would compare ride possibilities, screen potential co-travelers, keep track of location, monitor traffic conditions, update accounts, and could provide additional optional services.

 

A driver available to take riders would call and announce their destination and current location.  On a weekday morning they would just need to call when leaving the house and give their name.  Their virtual PC would know where they live and where they work.  Similarly, all normal information would be default.  Only changes from the usual would ever need to be inputted.

 

A rider would call to announce their need of a ride.  Their assigned PC would take in the request and immediately make a ride request to the traffic representation computer, which would report similarly destined drivers upstream of the rider.

The rider’s PC would examine the queue, “talk” to the various drivers’ PCs, calculate arrival times and compatibility and determine the best ride.  When the rider’s PC and the driver’s PC “agree” they would direct their respective parties to a convenient rendezvous.

During the trip the driver’s PC would monitor and advise on traffic conditions.  At the end of the trip it would update accounts.  Drivers would be credited for driving and riders would be debited.  In the beginning, a start-up subsidy could be allocated to encourage all participants.

The traffic representation computer containing the rapidly changing traffic situation must be suitably backed up.  The technology used in major banking systems or air traffic control may be applicable.  The ridesharing service companies would be key to the overall success of the ride-sharing system.  They would handle the difficult and open-ended job of interacting with the customers and satisfying their needs.  A modest share of each transaction could reimburse them, potentially quite well.



Motivation 
Stand next to any busy street and closely observe the passing traffic. Note the number of one passenger vehicles and their unused capacity.  See all the empty seats.  Hear and smell the engine power required for the sheet metal bodies to carry their empty space past.   As you drive to work, or on your errands, look around, look around inside your own car.  See the empty seats.

While stuck in rush-hour traffic look around outside.  Note the actual sparse sprinkling of people in the jammed metal crowd.  A freeway of ton-and-a-half metal boxes serving a footpath of travelers.  Consider the waste: of fuel, of air, of roadway and parking space, of resources and manufacturing effort, of our time and nerves spent getting nowhere.  An On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System is focused exactly on this waste. The simple intention is to increase the number of travelers in each vehicle.  By doing so, congestion, gas consumption, air pollution and road construction could be significantly reduced.

IMPEDIMENTS TO RIDESHARING The issue most critical to implementation of an On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System is public acceptance. Generally, people’s hesitancies about giving strangers a ride can be grouped under the following headings: 
 
     a. Fear.
     b. Lack of positive incentive.
     c. Lack of destination information. 
     d. Inflexibility.  We note people’s reluctance to join structured carpools.


a. Fear:  Fear is the most emphatic. No one wants to fear for their bodily safety or even to be made uncomfortable, and especially not when confined within the limited space of a private automobile.  In an On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System as described herein our natural fear of strangers could be greatly alleviated.  Drivers and riders would both be meaningfully “known” by the system.  Each party would screen their co-travelers on criteria of their own choosing.  The ridesharing system would only bring drivers and riders together when mutual acceptability was indicated.  In a sense then, they would be “properly introduced”.

b. Incentive:  Riders would save the cost and hassle of operating their cars and of parking.  Incentive for drivers could be provided by payment on a per trip, per mile or other basis.   But, the diluting effect of the commons is ever present. The main benefits of increased ridesharing would be societal: reduced congestion, air pollution, and reduced cost of road construction are all benefits accruing to society in general.  Any inconvenience experienced by an individual ride-sharer would be directly experienced.  But their share of society’s benefits would undoubtedly not feel as real.  The case for governmental underwriting is strong.

Direct personal financial remuneration would be equitable.  Additional tangible incentives would also be helpful.  Diamond lanes, toll bypasses, special carpool vehicle parking and other incentives could all help.  For example, in some cities where “high occupancy vehicle” lanes, i.e. “diamond lanes” have been installed a significant phenomenon has arisen: Casual Carpooling. Drivers queue up at informal meeting places to take aboard enough additional passengers to entitle their use of the diamond lane.  Riders line up to take the free ride.  Somehow fear diminishes when the positive motivation is sufficient.

c. Destination Information:  Casual Carpooling has arisen when there are one or two main destinations.  In the San Francisco Bay Area these carpools all go to downtown San Francisco.  Near Washington D.C. they go to either downtown Washington or to the Pentagon.  But in general, commuters’ destinations are diverse.  Although we may be willing to give someone with a similar destination a ride, we can’t interview potential riders until we find that one.  Smart hitchhikers hold up signs.  In a computerized ridesharing system, the destinations of all travelers would be known.  Only those with similar destinations and a convenient wayside transfer point would be matched.

d. Flexibility:  Most importantly, an On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System would be flexible and convenient.  No pre-existing obligations would constrain.  All ridesharing would be arranged dynamically.  The system would fit over all transportation arrangements presently in use.  Transit connections could be integrated.  Perhaps first only used as a backup, slowly the public’s reliance could grow.


SYSTEM EVOLUTION:  The system as outlined meets certain basic needs.  Travelers could conveniently and safely hook-up with similarly destined fellow travelers, save money and (given diamond lanes) time.  Overall traffic conditions would improve.  System evolution and improvement could be stimulated by governmental support and integration of additional services.  Like Uber and Lyft today, competitive ridesharing services could arise.
1. Different ridesharing services would compete in reach and clarity of their signal and their response speed.
2. They would compete in the sophistication of their voice response programs including intelligibility, vocabulary size, and ability to interpret degraded signals.
3. In arranging rides the services would compete in the depth and speed of their ride possibility examinations, their compatibility checking, and in the detailed map knowledge used in suggesting rendezvous locations and guiding their travelers to them.
4. Services would compete in their ability to utilize the available traffic information to anticipate or react to changing traffic conditions and accordingly reroute their drivers.
5. Most importantly, in order to increase their market share, the ridesharing companies would compete in enrolling the public by offering special enhanced services.

Increased participation brought about by each ridesharing company’s efforts would, in turn, improve overall system performance which would in turn facilitate more enrollments. The ridesharing service companies are here envisioned as commercial business operations. They would originally be instituted to facilitate ridesharing.  But it is in the area of enhancements that the system might really catch the public imagination and evolve.  The cellular company handling the call and the ridesharing service company providing the speech interface and data base access might see opportunity in proliferating the services provided. 

The open architecture coupled with competitive pressures and technological evolution could stimulate a myriad of enhancements:
a) Users might simply state their destination as “nearest subway station” or “main railroad station” and the service would, using its in-depth map knowledge, arrange a ride and provide any further directions necessary. Schedule and ticket information could be made available enroute.
b) “Destination International Airport” could initiate dialogue concerning current flight information, gate numbers, ticketing information, final destination transit information, etc.
c) Whenever there are alternate ride possibilities the ridesharing service could intentionally match travelers with possible mutual business networking potential.
d) Travelers on a shopping trip without a car could require additional services: “Destination Shopping Center Z” could trigger information on individual store locations, current sales info, and possible delivery arrangements for purchases.
e) Through their speech-capable intelligent interfaces the ridesharing services could offer access to existing on-line databases.
f) While riding, travelers might order their groceries or other purchases and arrange delivery.
g) Computer guided tours, interactive games, lessons, surveys, contests, etc., might become popular.

DOWN THE ROAD:  Each traveler while they are on-line would be interacting by voice with a dedicated artificial intelligence program. In the beginning the program would act as their ambassador and travel agent.  However, as we can only suggest, they would evolve. The publicity and promotional efforts of the competing ridesharing services would all tend to popularize the idea in the public imagination.  Catching rides while “traffic surfing” via your on-line ridesharing service might make dragging a ton-and-a-half metal box around seem culturally obsolete.

Various commentators have predicted for years that the computer revolution would really take off when the average person could talk to them. It could just happen in the process of sharing a ride. 

SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT SCENARIO. Basic Research:

I. Social Issues – Much of the first step must be research into the requisite technology. But at the same time consideration must be given to social questions. • Participation must reach a critical mass before the system can function effectively.  How best to reach this in terms of public acceptance and marketing issues?  What are the appropriate test markets – small or midsize cities? • How should an On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing System be structured in light of economic, legal, and political considerations?  How might it impact society?

II. Technical Issues – Areas where first stage research should focus would seem to be:
a) Cellular phone systems – Coverage, speed, and transmission fidelity.
b) Voice Interpretation and Speech Synthesis – What are the effects on voice interpretation programs when the input has been transmitted through both cellular and landline phone systems? Speaker dependent vs. speaker independent?
c) Traffic Representation Computer – How might the traffic representation that supports the competing ridesharing services tie into an area-wide Advanced Traffic Management System, and an Advanced Traveler Information System? What computer architecture would be most failsafe?
d) Artificial Intelligence Program – How would the necessary customer interface AI program interact with the traffic representation computer, other programs of its kind, and the traveling public?

III. Prototype Design and Pilot Program 
A.  Design and test prototype traffic representation and AI/PC interface programs. It is envisioned that only a very simple basic AI/PC program would be originally developed to establish feasibility.  Once such a demonstration program is proven it would be published and development turned over to the entrepreneurial energy of the private sector.  Potential commercial operators could be interested at this stage.
B.  Develop a simulation program to test the overall system operation. Simulation results should be widely published and discussed.  If results are promising an entire pilot program could next be built.  Candidate test markets would be surveyed and a test site selected.  Potential commercial operators could be working on their programs and marketing strategy.
C.  A full-scale field test would be tried with commercial operators running the ridesharing services. Field results would be used to improve the system. 

Commercialization:
Assuming success in the pilot program, the commercialization phase would follow with installations spreading across the country as fast as public enthusiasm and the available expertise would allow.  On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing Systems hold the greatest promise for our traffic clogged, smoggy metropolitan areas.  With modifications they would also have application in rural areas beyond the reach of public transit. 

Eventually, On-Line Real-Time Ridesharing systems could be replicated into every jurisdiction.  The benefits then would be national in scope.  As such, the USDOT is the logical sponsor of this technology. However, other sponsors and development options might be expedient.  One or more regional institutions could develop the system and then recoup their investment through franchise or license fees.  Of immediate importance is to begin.

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