Transportation

Can Rideshare Apps Ease Freeway Congestion?

Study looks at whether toll discounts will encourage ridesharing.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is doing a study on real-time rideshare technology, and whether people would use it to get toll road discounts.  

Researchers are now using the Carma rideshare app to see if drivers would be willing to share rides if they could get a discount on Austin-area toll roads. They would get those discounts using their TxTag.

The study comes as Austin deals with some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. That’s a result of the city’s sharp population growth.

“The transportation challenges that cities like Austin and Houston face are not small, and they’re not getting smaller.”

TTI researcher Greg Griffin says real-time ridesharing could be an inexpensive private sector solution.

“We could end up with a software solution that doesn’t require construction of any kind, that could help address our congestion challenges, and along with it has people sharing rides, which saves a great deal of money from a personal perspective, but also helps reduce air pollution and congestion that causes challenges for the whole community.”

Griffin says about 700 Austin-area residents have downloaded the Carma app. About 100 drivers are taking part in the study.

With financial help from the Federal Transit Administration, two-person carpools get a 50 percent toll rebate. Three-person carpools get a 100 percent rebate.

In turn, the passengers use their smart phones to pay a small fee to the driver. Griffin says they avoid the controversy of other rideshare services by capping that fee at 20 cents a mile.

“And that basically keeps drivers who are operating a true ridesharing service to not receive more income than what it would cost for them to make the trip by themselves.”

Here in Houston drivers with multiple passengers have the option of using HOV lanes, and there’s a practice at some of the park and rides known as “slugging.” That’s when drivers pick up random passengers so they can access those lanes.

David Crossley with Houston Tomorrow says what makes the app-based rideshare attractive is that you know who’s getting in your car before the ride.

“The services like Carma keep the information. In case somebody has a bad ride, they go online and enter that, and then you watch out for that person. So I think it’s going to be enormous.”

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, just under 11 percent of Austin residents carpool to work, compared to 72 percent who drive to work by themselves.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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