Door-to-door transit: Cut fuel cost by sharing rides

Every day there is another piece on television or in the papers about soaring fuel prices. No solutions are offered, only complaints and laments.

There is no sure way to stop the price of fuel from rising, but we could spend a lot less on it than we do now by driving together and thus burning less of it.

I am proposing a ride sharing plan in which we would use our computers, cell phones and pagers to link those needing rides with those offering rides. Such a plan could be implemented in a few months at low cost.

A ride sharing program working in conjunction with congestion pricing could take a quarter to a half of single occupancy vehicles off the roads and freeways. We could increase average occupancy levels, reduce total fuel consumption, and meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocols.

Ride share riders would take an orientation class on proper behavior, pass a written test and a criminal background check, and be issued a ride share ID card. Ride share drivers would do the same and get a chauffeur’s license.

Their vehicles would be equipped with dashboard GPS computers, the kind taxis have, which would illustrate the best routes to follow to pick up and drop off riders. Drivers might use their own vehicles or be assigned a transit vehicle.

Riders would pay a flat monthly fee. Drivers would get credits and be paid at the end of each month for each passenger-mile they deliver. No money would change hands during trips.

Riders would get door-to-door service, from wherever they are to wherever they need to go—home-to-office, office-to-lunch, lunch-to-office, office-to-gym, gym-to-grocery, grocery-to-home. Our children could get rides to and from school, daycare, and the ex-spouse. A person needing a ride could hold up his card and waive down a door-to-door vehicle. It might bear some distinctive, lighted medallion. If we deliver comprehensive service, the riders will climb aboard. I would.

But can we afford such personalized transit? Large numbers of cars would be left at home. Buses would be better utilized. Freeways would not need to be widened. Park &Ride lots would not have to be expanded. We would get to work more quickly, so we will be more efficient. We would save countless gallons of fuel. Yes, we can afford it. My mother advised: Sometimes it’s worth spending a little more to get something worth having.

Ride sharing is not less but more important in the suburbs and rural areas where densities are low and fixed route bus schedules do not work well.

Tolls would be set at a level sufficient to discourage enough people from driving alone so that at all times roads would flow freely and fast. However, tolls would be unfair to middle and lower classes unless some better, cheaper and faster way of getting around were offered. Thus, congestion pricing and ride sharing are best implemented jointly.

With ride sharing available, a family could sell one or more cars and save on car payments, insurance and repairs, which would raise its effective standard of living.

Buses would continue to roll on heavily traveled routes — on freeways, highways and major thoroughfares. But on underused routes, buses would be replaced with door-to-door service. A hub-and-spoke system might be used: We would travel freeways, highways and major thoroughfares on fast buses running in HOV lanes. At Park &Ride stations we would switch to vans.

Average vehicle occupancy for ordinary vehicles is around 1.35. Except for express buses, most of the buses I see here in Lynnwood drive around mostly empty. That’s a lot of unused and wasted capacity.

The fixed route bus system is too rigid. We need a mix of large and smaller vehicles delivering flexible and personalized transportation of higher quality and which in turn would be heavily used.

We cling to the myth that we must build something to solve our traffic congestion problem — light rail, monorail, more freeway lanes, wider bridges. Without door-to-door transit, none of these construction projects will be effectual. Construction projects are the last thing, not the first, we should be doing with our limited transit money.

No one else has, so I have presumed to come up with a theory of what might get us out of our traffic jams. This short article is only a partial summary of my full proposal which is available at: www.Comprehensive-Transportation.Blogspot.com.

If you disagree with me, make a counter-proposal. Don’t just say “it won’t work” or “nothing will work.” That is what most of us believe right now, that it will take decades for us to get us out of traffic jams — if we ever get out.

James Robert Deal is a real estate attorney and mortgage broker in Lynnwood who has a deep interest in transit and transportation issues.

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