In 2001, Boeing announced a controversial decision to move its headquarters from its original founding location in Seattle to Chicago. According to the CEO at the time, Phil Condit, the decision was based on a number of strategic factors but the biggest hurdle to the move wasn’t the transfer of 450 employees, nor was it local Seattle reaction to the decision…the biggest hurdle turned out to be the new building in Chicago had only 200 parking spots. People used to commuting in their own personal car in Seattle was not used to the option of alternative transportation such as car pooling and transit (buses, trains etc). Turns out that once the move was done and people had a taste of transit and car pooling, this overreaction was quelled as people found it a more enjoyable experience getting work done and being more relaxed during the commute.
Car pooling has been around in many forms since the dawn of the automobile in 1908. The popularity swings between car pooling and individual car ownership though has gone through many phases during this time:
–In the late 1920s, the popularity of individual car ownership was reaching a critical point electric trolleys dominated most city centers from Los Angeles to New York. But with the Depression of 1929, many of these companies went bankrupt allowing automobile manufacturers to buy up the “right of way” along these rail tracks and convert them to roads. With electric trolley’s ending their domination, cars now became the best alternative to transportation
–During World War 2, the need to conserve gas and oil for the war effort caused the government to encourage car pooling to work. Up to 15 different pubic message announcements were designed and deployed to encourage this behavior.
–With the Interstate expansion and the investment in road infrastructure in 1956, urban sprawl (where people tended to live further away from where they worked) started to become the norm. This road expansion also drove the trend for individual car ownership.
–With the Oil crisis of the 1970s (where oil prices increase almost 10 times from 1970 to 1975) this was the time period where the first carpool lanes on the Interstate highways were built in the USA starting in 1970s(where bus-lanes were open to cars with 4 or more occupants).
–The 1990s saw a shift in car ownership moving to larger and larger vehicles as oil prices started to bottom out. Vehicles such as min-vans, trucks, Hummers and 4×4 vehicles all became popular during this time where engine fuel efficiency nose dived to 9 to 10 miles per gallon.
–There are over 830 million vehicles on the planet today with 230 million of those located in the USA. Every year there are an additional 75 million cars sold worldwide. The “air-pocalypse” now happening in major cities around the world from Los Angeles to Beijing due to carbon emissions from these vehicles are posing serious health and environmental hazards. Combined with increasing traffic congestion (the average American spends 3hours commuting to and from work) this has led to increasing popularity of van pooling, transit and smaller vehicles with more fuel efficient engines (hybrids etc).
All of the above seem to show that the popularity of car pooling is cyclical and depends on factors such as gas prices, road/parking infrastructure, traffic congestion and pollution. But lets go back to the 1920s, where public transit was the most popular form of transportation and ask the question “why did the car dominate after the 1930s?” I would argue that the car offered convenience to people that they could not get from public transit.., transit was a lot more unreliable in terms of when they would arrive and depart…whereas a car you can get in and go at any time. Car pooling has also suffered this same fate, where people just don’t have a good sense of when you will be departing to or arriving at your destination. Although car pooling is a lot better than public transit (quicker, more comfortable etc) it still suffers from the same problem…how do you really know when you will be leaving or arriving.
New RideSharing technology will turn this problem on its head. Stay tuned as Spedsta will make this problem obsolete!