Adding one of the more compelling scientific studies to the ongoing and rapidly developing saga of urban car ride-sharing services, the September 2, 2014 edition of The New York Times published a summary and analysis of a study of what would happen, as the titles states, If 2 New Yorkers Shared a Cab … , by Kenneth Chang and Joshua A. Kirsch. In the findings’ simplest terms, there would be a 40% reduction on the cab fleet and corresponding improvements in traffic flows, energy consumption and the environment.
The author of this fascinating study are Steven Strogatz*, a mathematics professor at Cornell, whose team included Carlo Ratti of MIT. This article contains links to their recently published paper, an accompanying graphic of the data points overlaid upon a street map of NYC, and a link to a site they have set established enabling anyone to peruse a massive database of taxi ride info.
This article also expertly explores:
- The scientific methods used to obtain these results, balanced against the reality of the fact that New Yorkers are very reluctant to voluntarily share cab rides
- How the recent introductions here of Uber and Lyft are impacting the economics and dynamics of the city’s taxi industry
- Whether and how the possible introduction of self-driving cars might affect the study’s findings
- The concerns of a scientist who is skeptical of the study’s conclusions
The day following day, on September 3rd, Strogatz and Ratti were interviewed about their report on the Brian Lehrer Show** on WNYC in New York. They covered more of the details concerning their methods, conclusions and predictions. But what really enlivened this show were the live calls from the listeners with remarkable stories of their cab rides in NYC as passengers and from an actual driver as they related to the prospect and realities of ride sharing. I highly recommend this 23 minute podcast entitled Should We Start Sharing Taxis? for these reports from the front lines of this story.
For additional original perspectives, commentary and insights into the emergence of the new sharing economy that I found to be quite relevant to this story, I further recommend the following three articles that were published during same week:
- How to Make Your “Uber for X” Idea More Than Just a VC Pitch, by Ajay Chopra, posted on September 4, 2014 on Recode.com
- The End of Ownership: The Zero-marginal-cost Economy, by Dries Buytaert, posted on September 6, 2014 on TheNextWeb.com
- When Old-Economy Jobs Become New-Economy Gigs, by John Evan, posted on September 6,2014 on TechCrunch.com
Will this sharing trend gain further traction in other sectors of the service economy? If so, what sectors and job types might be sucsceptible? If not, is this just a trend that will quickly run its course or perhaps morph into something more enduring?
* Professor Strogatz has written a number of highly acclaimed books on science and math. Ten years ago I had the great pleasure of reading one of them entitled Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life (Hyperion, 2004). This is a strikingly original work about how synchrony emerges from within a wide diversity of biological and environmental systems. I found his writing to be highly engaging and accessible about what otherwise would appear to be a highly complex topic for a general audience. He has done a masterful job here of explaining the concepts and examples with great clarity. I highly recommend it for any reader looking for something entirely new and different.
** X-ref to the August 1, 2014 post here entitled Discussion re: Faster Web Service, Media Mergers and Net Neutrality about another interesting segment of this show, including a link to its podcast.