Road Runner: Ridesharing going through an identity crisis

2014-04-28T00:00:00Z Road Runner: Ridesharing going through an identity crisisBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

For many people, the term “ridesharing” conjures up images of someone driving their personal vehicle — sometimes adorned with a pink mustache — to pick up another person who requested a ride by using a phone app.

Ridesharing has become trendy lately because of two transportation companies, Uber and Lyft, that have launched these services in Tucson within the past eight months.

Supporters have lauded the services, which allow customers to pay online, saying it’s cheaper and more convenient than traditional taxis.

Critics say the companies risk the safety of their drivers, passengers and others because the services don’t have to comply with the same safety, insurance and regulatory requirements as cabs.

State lawmakers held discussions and proposed bills in the last legislative session in hopes of figuring out how to regulate this form of alternative transportation.

Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill last week that would have exempted Uber and Lyft from some of the same regulations as taxies.

But while lawmakers, authorities and other groups debate the merits of private citizens getting paid to give rides to strangers, the Pima Association of Governments is concerned the two companies don’t actually fit the description of a “ridesharing” service.

As a result, PAG is hoping to help clarify what ridesharing actually means.

And they should know.

The agency has operated its own ridesharing program since the late 1980s.

So what’s the difference between PAG’s program, Sun Rideshare, and the services provided by Uber and Lyft?

And why does PAG think it’s wrong to refer to those companies as “ridesharing” services?

Sun Rideshare is more of a traditional carpool service that connects somone who needs a ride to work with a driver who might be heading in the same direction.

Carpoolers can sign up for the program and have their name entered into a database.

If someone is in need of a ride, they can access the database, click on the name of a person who might live near them and send a ready-made email asking for a ride.

“This type of system is done, pretty much, across the country,” said Ruth Reiman, Travel Demand Management Manager for PAG. “It’s a nice way of hooking people up.”

Unlike those two companies, Sun Rideshare’s carpooling service doesn’t cater to people who want to go to the mall or those who need a ride to Fourth Avenue on a Saturday night.

“We don’t have that one-time hookup capability,” Reiman said. “It’s more for your commute trip.”

Most importantly, Sun Rideshare’s carpool service is free, although it’s up to the carpoolers to decide how to divy up gas money and any other expenses.

Since Uber and Lyft charge for rides, the companies shouldn’t be classified as ridesharing programs, she said.

“There’s clearly a difference between making money and driving together” to work, she said.

Lately, PAG has struggled to find drivers as carpooling has declined in Pima County within the past several years.

According to an American Community Survey, the percentage of those who carpool in Pima County dropped from 12.8 percent in 2005 to 9.5 in 2012.

There are 935 people in Sun Rideshare’s travel database registered for carpool matching, but only 316 are available to drive.

“The biggest challenge is getting people into the database who have cars,” Reiman said.

As PAG hopes to find more drivers for its ride-sharing program, agency officials don’t have a problem with companies like Uber and Lyft moving into its territory.

“They don’t impinge on what we do,” she said. “It’s nice to have options. The more, the merrier.”

These companies can provide a valuable service for many people who are looking for an alternative way to get around.

But, as far as PAG is concerned, don’t call it ridesharing.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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