Traffic around the Bay Area has jumped 70 percent since 2010, with San Francisco reported as having the third worst traffic in the country. With those frustrating figures in mind, a new study from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) suggests a way to reduce the number of cars on the road by up to 75 percent: Ride-hail carpooling.
Specifically, MIT researchers developed a routing algorithm that they say could be employed by services like Uber Pool and Lyft Line. They argue that, with their system, 98 percent of New York City's taxi needs could be met with just 3,000 four-passengers cars. There are approximately 14,000 taxis operating in the city — meaning 11,000 cars off the road.
“Instead of transporting people one at a time, drivers could transport two to four people at once, result[ing] in fewer trips, in less time, to make the same amount of money,” explained Professor Daniela Rus of MIT’s CSAIL. “A system like this could allow drivers to work shorter shifts, while also creating less traffic, cleaner air and shorter, less stressful commutes.”
The average wait time for a car would be just 2.7 minutes, the study authors find.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time that scientists have been able to experimentally quantify the trade-off between fleet size, capacity, waiting time, travel delay, and operational costs for a range of vehicles, from taxis to vans and shuttles,” Rus said. “What’s more, the system is particularly suited to autonomous cars, since it can continuously reroute vehicles based on real-time requests.”
With Uber's autonomous cars getting the boot from SF last month, and SFMTA officials blaming Uber and Lyft for San Francisco's traffic woes — that the companies could play a vital role in alleviating said problems is a PR boon not lost on company spokespersons. "The findings of the MIT study align with Lyft's vision of providing reliable, affordable rides while taking cars off the road, and ultimately reducing traffic congestion," a Lyft spokesperson told the Business Times. "Lyft Line is a hugely popular option for our passengers, and will be instrumental in helping us build a world with less traffic and less pollution; a world that is built around people, not cars."
Of course, San Franciscans already have the option of using Lyft Line and Uber Pool — yet traffic obviously persists. According to Rus, that may be in part because of the inefficiencies inherent in the two companies' carpooling software. Or there's the fact that sometimes you're just in a hurry and not in the mood for a detour that involves sitting outside someone's house eight blocks out of your way for five minutes.