mobility trends carpool

August 31, 2021 •

8 min reading

Mobility Trends: On the road to carpooling

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The sanitary crisis we face has highlighted the vacuity of some of our practices; the way we work has changed, as has our relationship with the environment. As a result, ecological concerns, more than ever, are now at the heart of the reflections of communities and companies that see the opportunity to give more weight to their societal values, including their environmental values. If this opportunity is accompanied by a strong will to innovate, many solutions already exist to reduce the environmental impact of organizations and countries. Moreover, while some changes target confidential results, others address more global issues.

Our relationship with transportation

For example, our relationship with transportation is strongly linked to our environmental impact. Indeed, beyond any other practice, transport in general, and road transport in particular, is considered the main cause of air pollution in cities and accounts for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions (European Commission, 2016). In 2002, road traffic accounted for 35% of CO2 emissions in Switzerland, of which 70% was produced by passenger vehicles (Federal Office for the Environment, 2002) . In 2010, one-third of the CO2 emissions produced in Geneva came from transport (Stein & Nemchi, 2010). By 2019, the share of transport (excl. international air transport) in the total CO2 emissions at a national level accounted for a 40% (Federal Statistical Office, 2021).


What exactly is carpooling?

To reduce the environmental impact of our travels, the use of soft mobility solutions, such as carpooling, represents a prime solution, especially for commuting. Carpooling is defined as an arrangement between two or more people to share the use of a private car for a trip (Gheorghiu & Delhomme, 2018). In this arrangement, a joint contribution to the driver's expenses is usually considered. Beyond its social aspect, carpooling has always been linked to the desire to preserve natural resources. Indeed, since World War II, carpooling was put forward to safeguard the resources and support the war effort. Subsequently, carpooling was revived in the 1970s during the oil crisis, again to reduce the use of a resource (Friman, Lättman, & Olsson, 2020).

Within the framework of commuting, carpooling represents a solid opportunity to reduce the ecological impact of organizations. Indeed, the practice is well known and has a positive image. Thus, in the context of a study conducted in Switzerland, Ciari and Axhausen (2012) had already highlighted that the attitude towards carpooling was very positive and that most of the individuals interviewed stated that they considered carpooling as a realistic option to ensure their travel if concrete opportunities presented themselves (Ciari & Axhausen, 2012). This result is neither isolated nor specific to Switzerland and confirms the interest in the practice. Nevertheless, despite this declared interest, the figures for carpooling in Switzerland remain pretty low. Hence, with an average occupancy rate of 1.6 persons per vehicle, Bachmann, Hanimann, Artho and Jonas (2018) estimate that the number of people practicing carpooling in Switzerland remains relatively low.

Although paradoxical, these results are also neither isolated nor specific to Switzerland and confirm that having a positive attitude towards carpooling does not predict actual investment in carpooling practices (Bachmann et al., 2018). This mismatch between attitudes and behaviors is well documented and particularly common in sustainable behavior.


Matching attitudes with behaviours

In Ciari and Axhausen's survey (2012), more than half of the respondents said they were interested in carpooling, suggesting a real potential. Therefore, to ensure the transition from attitudes to responsible behaviors, organizations could use influence strategies that have already been proven in the field of sustainable behaviors (Terrier & Marfaing, 2015). However, these strategies, based on choice architecture, would require identifying the factors that hinder or encourage the shift from a positive attitude to concrete carpooling behavior. The quality of this initial diagnosis will define the quality of any intervention, and to do the latter without the former would be to leave the success of any intervention up to chance.

Luckily, an extensive research and diverse studies have been carried out on carpooling. If it is clear that the sustainability of carpooling requires the implementation of platforms and/or dedicated solutions, different factors can affect their effectiveness. Namely, most of the research highlights the importance of safety in the broadest sense, including the need for reassurance at every stage of the carpooling service. For example, ensuring the availability of a return trip in the case of an outbound carpooling trip is seen as a critical element before actually engaging in a carpooling program.


Making carpooling more credible

More generally, one of the primary resistances to carpooling is related to the credibility given to carpooling programs. Thus, in Switzerland, although several web platforms offer to take care of these aspects, none of them imposes itself as the reference platform. Consequently, few individuals can name even one platform operating in Switzerland. Thus, individuals seem reluctant to engage in behaviors that, although they consider them eminently positive, remain marginal. This marginal aspect is also reinforced by the fact that the small number of users limits the possibilities.

This lack of legibility of the available offer significantly reduces the credibility of carpooling offers. Thus, in addition to limited knowledge of the platforms, individuals also have a very negative perception of them, reproaching them for their lack of autonomy, reliability in estimating travel times, complicated interfaces, and, more generally, flaws in terms of safety (Graziotin, 2013).


The issue of trust

Indeed, sharing a ride is not trivial and can be perceived as a risk for the passenger, who will not be the master of the driving, as well as for the driver who accepts that a stranger enters into a personal space. The driver-passenger relationship is essential here, and an increase in the practice of carpooling will only be possible by overcoming the psychological barriers associated with traveling with strangers (Correia & Viegas, 2011). Transferring responsibility for regular trips to other people entails a risk. Therefore, trust is a crucial issue, and, as confirmed by Tavory et al. (2020), the fear of sharing a ride with a stranger remains one of the main barriers to carpooling (Shoshany Tavory, Trop & Shiftan, 2020). Considering the social aspect of carpooling is therefore essential, in the same way as the ergonomics or the richness of the offer. In the end, it remains two people traveling together, and a relationship of trust, a connection, must be established. Thus, the driving style, the courtesy or even the fact of being a smoker are taken into account to determine if a person will accept or not to travel with another.

One of the main challenges for ridesharing platforms will be to ensure this trust both in the identification procedures and in evaluating each participant's behavior (Nagare, More, Tanwar, Kulkarni & Gunda, 2013). Most research on ridesharing shows that individuals place a high value on these social aspects and seem to doubt the ability of platforms to create efficient and compatible driver/passenger pairs over the long term (Olsson, Maier & Friman, 2019).


Work-based carpooling programs

Many people wonder if the solution could be found in creating closed carpooling clubs. Indeed, within a club, individuals have the possibility to join each other around shared interests, which could reduce the perception of risk linked to the fact of traveling with a stranger.

In parallel to the creation of clubs, the creation of carpooling programs reserved for members of a single organization also represents an exciting opportunity for several Swiss organizations, such as the EHL Hospitality Business School. Indeed, sharing a journey with work colleagues reduces the risk thanks to a much higher level of trust and knowledge. Furthermore, various studies show that individuals are more likely to trust and interact with members of their organization, using group identity to create personal connections (Prentice, Miller & Lightdale, 1994). Here individuals do not necessarily share common interests but could be, in part, defined by a common organizational identity. Indeed, work-based carpooling programs should also develop a solid organizational identity, which would serve as a foundation to support the social barriers of carpooling.


The question of autonomy

In addition to this notion of trust, the perception of reduced autonomy is also a significant barrier to carpooling. The fact of feeling constrained and limited in its travels, whether in terms of time or distance, remains the main barrier for the passengers as well as for the drivers who anticipate the possible extension of time necessary to collect the participants. It is a fact that committing to others to share transportation can significantly reduce the autonomy and flexibility of one's trips (Friman et al., 2020). The efficiency of carpooling solutions is strongly affected by users' behavior. Also, time variations, delays, or waiting times are the main complaints addressed by users (Concas & Winters, 2007). In the same way that a driver arriving early at the meeting point may perceive this waiting time as illegitimate, in case of delay due to traffic jams, passengers may consider that the responsibility of the driver or the platform is involved.

The other important concern related to autonomy is the flexibility of the commitment. Thus, many people prefer not to invest in carpooling because they are afraid of making a commitment that is too long or too rigid. Indeed, even the most fervent carpoolers prefer to remain flexible in their commitment. Therefore, having a too strict schedule and commitment reduces the motivation to join carpooling groups.


The ecological aspect

While these fears are legitimate, the rational benefits of carpooling are real. For example, most individuals interested in carpooling say they are willing to share the cost of gasoline. This represents a significant financial gain. Similarly, most consider a 10-minute detour acceptable if it allows them to adopt more sustainable mobility. And that is the second benefit of carpooling: reducing its environmental impact. Indeed, many unmoving perceive carpooling as a more altruistic and respectful mode of transportation. This is why carpooling programs must highlight the ecological aspects of this form of mobility to convince users of the environmental issues related to their mobility. It is known that the more people are aware of environmental issues, the more they are willing to carpool.


Working on effective behavioral strategies

Therefore, to promote carpooling, it is essential to promote the related social, environmental, and economic benefits. For carpooling to appear as a viable alternative to using a personal vehicle, the services must offer levels of accessibility, comfort, and trust that are competitive with the use of a private car. Thus, distance to the meeting point, parking cost, could be reduced for both the driver and the passenger.

In order to encourage sustainable behavior, it is necessary to identify behavioral barriers. In this case, programs can inundate individuals with figures on the beneficial aspects of carpooling, but this will not change anything. Until individuals are reassured on several key dimensions, they will not change their behavior. It is time for soft mobility programs to change their approach to more effective behavioral strategies.

Decades of research attest that being convinced of the benefits of a practice will not necessarily lead you to invest in that practice. You have to help the change. You have to identify what is inhibiting the desired behavior and turn most of those inhibitors into opportunities. In the context of carpooling, and more generally, soft mobility actions, it is no longer time to convince people of the importance of responsible behavior. Individuals are already convinced. It is now a question of helping them to adapt their behavior to their ideas.

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Written by

Associate Professor at EHL

Martha Sandoval Alvarado
Written by
Martha Sandoval Alvarado

Research Assistant