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Transportation

Can Shared Mobility Survive the Pandemic?

Even before Covid-19, many Uber and Lyft users avoided pooled trips. Asking people to share rides with strangers in autonomous vehicles may face the same resistance. 

The Cruise Origin, a fully driverless shuttle capable of carrying up to six passengers, is displayed during a reveal event in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2020.

The Cruise Origin, a fully driverless shuttle capable of carrying up to six passengers, is displayed during a reveal event in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2020.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Sharing, we are taught at an impressionable age, is good for you. That lesson certainly holds true for urban transportation, since streets can accommodate more trips if travelers pile into shared vehicles instead of each demanding her own.

Before Covid struck, ride-hail companies embraced shared trips with gusto. As mounting evidence suggested that individual Uber and Lyft trips worsen traffic congestion, pooled service seemed to offer a more city-friendly product. “We think the transformation of car ownership toward carpooling is going to be tremendously beneficial for cities, for the environment,” an Uber executive told The Verge in 2018. With UberPool and Lyft Line, ride-hail users could get a discount if they agreed to split their trip with a stranger or two. Autonomous vehicle companies also capitalized on sharing’s feel-good appeal. The Cruise Origin, a new AV revealed last year from GM’s Cruise subsidiary, was designed to be shared: Up to six passengers face one another in two sets of seats inside a futuristic driverless pod, like riders in a high-tech stagecoach.