Opinion: Online carpooling in South Africa

Submitted by: Daniel Claassen, Monday, August 26, 2013

Daniel Claassen, is the founder and managing member of FindaLift, a national network that encourages and enables South Africans to make better use of cars by providing simple online tools that securely matches members on similar routes, making carpooling easy to arrange.

In South Africa due to the growth in population and employment, the absolute number of trips by both cars and public transport are increasing. Live vehicle population statistics from the National Traffic Information System (eNaTIS) shows that the amount of privately owned motor cars on South African roads have more than doubled from 3 million to over 6 million since 1990, totalling around 64% of all self-propelled vehicles. South Africans also travel further and further each year, emitting more carbon emissions, using more fossil fuels and creating more pressure on existing road networks.

According to Statistics South Africa’s (STATSSA) General Household Survey in 2011, private vehicles remain the most common source of transport for individuals travelling to work at 32% and currently 2% of people commute using lift clubs. Many people travel the same direction at roughly the same time each day, and some of these  journeys could possibly be shared. Empty car seats not only waste road space but also indirectly waste money and environmental resources.

Why share journeys?

Journey sharing is a valuable means of encouraging a change to a more environmentally friendly form of  travel. Sharing a modest commute of 25km to work and back for one year can save an individual R7,000 in fuel and wear and tear on their vehicle, whilst saving 2.5 tonnes in CO2 emissions. When we extrapolate these savings the positive social and environmental benefits become a lot clearer as shown in the table below:

 

2 people

10,000 people

100,000 people

Financial saving

R14,000

R70million

R700million

CO2 reduced

2.5t

12,500t

125,000t

Trees

3

17,000

170,000

Maties FindaLift: Carpooling case study

The University of Stellenbosch has a problem with supplying enough parking space for all of its staff and students and has implemented a ride share portal to encourage the sharing of journeys within the University community (Image Source: Gert Oosthuizen)

Because of the growth at the University of Stellenbosch, if every student and staff member had to  have a parking space, there would be  a shortage of 7,200 parking bays which would cost the University R180,000,000 to build. As part of the University of Stellenbosch’s Master Mobility Plan and goal to reduce parking issues they have launched a private carpool portal for students and staff called “Maties FindaLift” (http://maties.findalift.co.za).  Although only in its early days, and with sharing journeys on an online platform still very new at the University of Stellenbosch, to date “Maties FindaLift” has saved 1,400 trips, approximately 50,000km saving and approximately 10t CO2 emissions.

How Maties FindaLift works 

The Maties FindaLift system allows University of Stellenbosch students and staff to communicate and link up with other users that travel in the same direction, at the same time. The Maties FindaLift system is a private system and therefore can only be used by individuals with a University of Stellenbosch email address. Users enter their basic details and preferences, such as if smoking is allowed, and once  registered each Maties FindaLift member has a personal account for interacting with other members. Users are then able to create a journey on the platform with basic details like the days of travel, times and flexibility. Once the journey has been uploaded matches with other users will be searched for and displayed instantly. Members then decide who they want to contact securely and make arrangements from there.

Overcoming barriers to carpooling: Implement a carpooling solution

Commuters know that many others drive their way at roughly the same time but they have no idea who these people are and how to access such information. Without knowing of an easy way to find other commuters traveling in the same direction and at the same time, people might feel unable to share journeys. To encourage and enable a change in travel behaviour it is vital to have a platform in place. A journey matching carpooling solution, like the Maties FindaLift carpool portal, will help put people in touch with others that are using similar routes, simplify the entire communications process and aid as a platform to educate on the benefits, safety, legal, insurance and other aspects of sharing journeys. It will also provide information on whether carpooling is working or not and what needs to be done to maximise performance.

Changing travel behaviour, overcoming perceptual barriers and encouraging individuals to form new sustainable habits are definitely not an overnight miracle. This said change can and will happen through subtle ongoing communication and awareness that educate and inspire people to be comfortable with the changes — and save our planet along the way.

Daniel Claassen