Can local ridesharing programs help alleviate some of our area’s traffic woes?

Eastside residents are well aware of our traffic woes and the fact that most experts believe, unless we change our transportation patterns, that traffic will worsen in the coming decade. So how should we solve this problem?

Public transit sounds like a good idea, but it doesn’t work well for everyone. The bus doesn’t come to every neighborhood, and many bus lines run infrequently. Expanded light rail and improved bus service eventually will help with some of these issues, but they aren’t immediate solutions. To fill near-term need for more transportation options, public transit agencies and corporations alike are stepping in with solutions.

King County Metro Transit, for example, has provided some form of ridesharing for many years. Its VanPool vehicles, which are a common sight on State Route 520, have been around for decades; King County’s is the largest publicly-owned van fleet in the nation. Metro Transit is responding to the demand for more flexible services by testing programs that don’t require riders to commit to a fixed schedule and monthly cost. Funding from the King County Council, in the amount of $12 million for the 2015-16 biennium, is enabling several pilot programs on the Eastside.

“People want flexibility,” said Victoria Tobin of King County Metro Rideshare Operations. “We are trying to fill in the gaps.”

Mercer Island recently lost a bus route that transported residents to the Park and Ride off I-90, causing more people to drive their cars and filling up the parking lot. The TripPool pilot program aims to alleviate congestion at the Park and Ride by providing volunteer drivers with specially marked TripPool vans, which get reserved parking. Metro Transit partnered with iCarpool to make an app that drivers use to announce their trips in real time. Registered riders are notified when a trip is about to start, and can choose to add themselves so the driver will pick them up. Riders pay 26 cents per mile, and the revenue is split between drivers and iCarpool.

Metro Transit is using the iCarpool app for a pilot in Redmond, as well. Real-Time Rideshare is geared toward people working in southeast Redmond near Willows Road, an area underserved by bus routes. County and city funding provides financial incentives for riders, who receive rebates toward rides, in addition to the $25 in free rides that iCarpool is offering all new riders as it works to ramp up Eastside service.

Partnerships with cities can be critical for car-sharing services, as ReachNow has found. The BMW subsidiary launched its car-sharing service in April. It’s a free-floating program; all cars have permits that allow them to be parked in any legal on-street space in the Seattle neighborhoods in its service area without worrying about time limits or cost.

ReachNow is quickly expanding in Seattle, but don’t expect to see many of its BMW and Mini cars on the streets of Bellevue. Although drivers are welcome to drive the cars to the Eastside, they will still need to park them back in Seattle in order for the meter to stop running (users are charged 41 cents per minute). Eastside expansion is part of ReachNow’s long-term plan, CEO Steve Banfield said, but it will likely require cooperation from multiple city governments to create one parking pass that works in all Eastside cities. ReachNow has expanded to Sea-Tac Airport, where it now has a “park and fly” service that allows members to park and pick up cars from the off-site Wally Park Premier Garage.

Zipcar used a different approach to parking when it launched its one-way service in Seattle in June. Zipcar installed sensors in certain parking garages that detect Zipcars, giving the driver free entry and parking in designated spots. Although most of the one-way Zipcar garages and lots are in Seattle, there is a spot in Bellevue and another at an off-airport parking garage near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, so it is possible to drive a Zipcar to the airport for about $5, the half-hour rate.

Proponents of car sharing think of it as an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, public transit. Customers can bus to work but have a vehicle available in case they need to take a trip during the day to a location that isn’t easily accessible by public transit. According to Matt Jensen, Zipcar marketing manager, parking spot locations are “designed not to cannibalize transit routes.”

Even though, as ReachNow’s Banfield said, car sharing “is not going to eliminate car ownership,” it certainly provides a compelling alternative, especially for people wanting to avoid the cost of maintaining and insuring a vehicle that sits idle for much of the day.

Uber

ridesharing

Photos courtesy the respective companies

Cost
Calculated by adding a base fare plus time and distance. Fares vary by city and vehicle option.
Coverage
509 cities worldwide
The Fleet
UberX (1-4 passengers), Uber XL (1-6 passengers), UberSELECT (luxury, 1-4 passengers)
How it works
Request a ride and vehicle option on the Uber app. Payment is handled through the app.

 

Lyft

Cost
Similar to Uber, cost is determined by time and distance.
Coverage
Major metros in the U.S. and Southeast Asia
The Fleet
Lyft Line (shared ride with people on the same route), Lyft (personal ride), Lyft Plus (up to six passengers), Lyft Premier (luxury ride)
How it works
Request a ride on the Lyft app, get picked up, then pay manually at the end through the app.

King County Ridesharingridesharing

Cost
60 cents per mile
Coverage
King County
The fleet
Privately-owned cars; county-owned vans and electric cars
How it works
Sign up on the King County ridesharing website, and you’ll be assigned to a carpool or vanpool with others traveling a similar route.

ReachNow

Cost
41 cents per minute
Coverage
Seattle
The Fleet
Electric BMW i3s, BMW 3 Series, and MINI Cooper vehicles
How it works
Drivers pay only for drive time. Parking in designated Home Areas is free; parking anywhere else runs 30 cents a minute.

ZipCarridesharing

Cost
Membership is $7 per month or $70 per year. Driving rates range from $8-$12 per hour
Coverage
Seattle and Bellevue
The Fleet
Choose from hybrids, sedans, vans and other types of cars.
How it works
Use a Zipcard to access the cars. Gas and insurance are included.

 

Getaround

Cost
Rentals start at $5 per hour.
Coverage
San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, and Washington, D.C., areas
How it works
Car owners rent their car out. The owner sets the pickup and drop-off location.

BlaBlaCarridesharing

Cost
Suggested price is 11 pence (about 22 cents) per mile per passenger.
Coverage
21 countries, most in Europe
How it works
Set pickup and drop-off location online, then book a seat with a driver of your choosing. The passenger receives the driver’s phone number and a booking code to arrange the ride.

 

HitchPlanet

Cost
Drivers are recommended to charge 10-12 cents per kilometer.
Coverage
Mostly British Columbia, but scattered throughout the rest of Canada and the U.S.
How it works
Search trips posted online by Hitchplanet drivers, then request a seat. If approved, meet the driver at the pickup location.

Modoridesharing

Cost
$5 monthly fee, $8 per hour
The Fleet
Cars, trucks, hybrids, vans, sports cars, and electric vehicles
Coverage
Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
How it works
Co-op members book an available car. Vehicles must be dropped off at the same location where they were picked up.

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