Pooling: more people in fewer cars | Inquirer Opinion

Pooling: more people in fewer cars

12:03 AM August 23, 2016

ONE OF my lasting memories as a child growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s is the endless traffic. Sadly, “carmageddon” is a disease that still affects the city today: People in Los Angeles waste almost two whole working weeks a year stuck in traffic. Worse still, it’s now part of life in all megacities, especially fast-growing ones like Manila.

By some accounts Manila has the “worst traffic on earth” — congestion is estimated to cost the city P3 billion a day in lost productivity. Unsurprisingly, President Duterte identified the problem as one of the greatest challenges facing the Philippines in his first State of the Nation Address. Because while the country has the fastest-growing economy in Asia, bad traffic threatens to bring that growth to a halt.


All sorts of ideas have been put forward to help solve this crisis: building more roads; high taxes on second cars; and moving government offices out of the capital. But there’s an immediate solution available at our fingertips in all megacities, from Los Angeles to Manila, and it doesn’t cost governments a peso. It’s about using the technology that is already in our pockets – smartphones – to get more passengers into fewer cars.

Of course, carpooling isn’t a new idea. Policymakers have talked about it for decades. But until the advent of the smartphone it was virtually impossible to reliably and safely match passengers headed in the same direction at the same time. Now, apps like Uber can do it at the push of a button; uberPOOL service is a model that has proven itself in some of the world’s largest cities.


In my hometown of Los Angeles, for example, uberPOOL reduced the number of miles driven by 7.9 million, and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 1,400 cubic tons in its first seven months. Here in Manila, more than 73,000 people have opted to carpool since the service was launched in June, and that number is growing exponentially. This has cut the number of kilometers driven by 578,000 – equivalent to 27,200 liters of fuel and 64,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide in just two months.

So we have the technology today. Now we just need some smart regulation to help everyone pool together. Last year the Philippines became the first country in the world to pass nationwide ride-sharing regulations. That is tremendous progress. But there’s more to be done if we want to turn every trip in Manila into a shared ride. We estimate that Uber accounts for less than 1 percent of the traffic in the capital today. Yet new drivers wanting to use the app can no longer apply for a permit. This prevents Filipinos who want to carpool from doing so.

By making it easy for people to give their fellow citizens a lift, we can turn the two and a half million cars on Manila’s roads into part of the solution rather than the problem. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but the best solution to “carmageddon” is not to demonize cars; it’s to use them more efficiently.

In the process, we can also reduce the cost of transportation for everyone. Research has shown that improving access to affordable, reliable transportation helps lift people out of poverty. For drivers, ride-sharing enables them to earn extra money at the push of a button, turning one of their biggest expenses – a car – into an economic asset. And when getting a ride is cheaper and easier than looking for your keys, your directions, your car and a parking space – why bother to own one at all? There is an alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam. We just all need to pull together.


Travis Kalanick is CEO and cofounder of Uber.

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TAGS: CAR, carmageddon, carpooling, cars, Commentary, grab, opinion, transport, Transportation, Uber
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