Carpooling with people you like may reduce car use by up to 60 per cent

Actually enjoying the company of the people you carpool with is key to making ride-sharing work, according to a new study by the University of Waterloo.
New research by University of Waterloo professor Bissan Ghaddar indicates that more people would carpool if they actually enjoyed their car-mates' company. (CBC)

Actually enjoying the company of the people you carpool with is key to making ride-sharing work, according to new research by the University of Waterloo. 

In fact it could decrease car trips by almost 60 per cent. 

Bissan Ghaddar, a professor of management engineering at University of Waterloo, wanted to better understand what keeps people from carpooling. 

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, only 17 per cent of people who commute to work by vehicle carpooled. The other 83 per cent drove solo. 

Social aspect underestimated

She said while people are drawn to carpooling for the cost savings and environmental benefits, there's also a social aspect that's often underestimated. 

"Some of the people who opt out of car sharing services are people who didn't enjoy the ride. Mostly you don't want to have an awkward silence in the car or the [discomfort] of being with a stranger," Ghaddar told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris on Wednesday.

"[Carpoolers] are also looking at sharing cars with people they enjoy the ride with. They are looking at the experience as well as reducing costs." 

Most carpool matching programs are focused on getting vehicles off the road, and don't take into account the personalities and interests of people in the car. If that changed, satisfaction rates would increase and car use would drop between 40 and 57 per cent, according to the results of the study.

Twitter matchmaking

Ghaddar surveyed potential carpoolers to learn how strongly they weigh the social component of ride sharing.

The survey also asked if people preferred to engage with those with the same interests, or if they were open to socializing with people who have different interests.

Then, working with IBM and two Italian universities, Ghaddar mined for mobility patterns among Twitter users in Rome and San Francisco. The Twitter users were then put through a matchmaking algorithm built using survey results to find potential carpooling matches. The algorithm took into account logistical factors and social preferences.

If the Twitter users were to follow those matches, the need for cars reduced by 57 per cent in Rome and by 40 per cent in San Francisco.

Those results were recently published in the academic journal Transportation Research Part C.

"With the current new disruptive technologies for cars coming into effect, we're seeing nowadays that there's a shift to shared economy models, where people are planning to own less and less cars," Ghaddar said. 

Ghaddar said she sees a future where autonomous vehicles will know when and where you want to go, and what types of people to pick up along the way.