Sharing economy initiatives are often considered as business models, which can contribute to the solution of today’s environmental and social problems. The use of ride share platforms offers a number of benefits to their users: both drivers and passengers. Sharing a car may reduce the cost of travel, may be faster and more comfortable than using other means of transportation and may offer social benefits, like a company for longer trips. Users may also consider the environmental implications of their travel behaviour and may decide that drive sharing is a more sustainable option than its alternatives (Böcker and Meelen, 2017).
Hence, more and more people join such platforms and use their services. At the same time, however, these benefits may also increase the amount of travel causing a rebound effect (Berkhout et al., 2000) while other factors may also limit the efficiency of these platforms.
For this reason, research conducted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest, Hungary, aimed at exploring the environmental rebound effects of a regional rideshare platform through the implementation of a questionnaire survey.
Our results based on more than 600 questionnaires suggest the existence of several types of rebound effects. More than one quarter of the respondents claimed that they travel more often than before using the platform. Most of those, who travel more often as a result of using the platform make an additional 1-2 trips per three month, while a few respondents indicated as many as 5 or more additional trips per month as a result of using the platform.
Similar results were obtained when looking at how much more milage do respondents travel with the platform compared to before using it. About 5% of the respondents travel as much as 500 kilometers/month more than before using the services of the rideshare company.
Comparing drivers and passengers uncovered a significant difference between the two user groups: passengers are more likely to travel more often than before joining the platform than drivers, whose travel behaviour seems to be less influenced by the use of the platform.
In an ideal setting, an average personal vehicle can comfortably carry a driver and three passengers, thus four separate vehicles can be substituted by one single vehicle promising a significant reduction in environmental impact. However, several factors limit such an efficiency gain including the actual number of passengers taking the trip, the exact route and milage covered by the different passengers, the environmental characteristics of substituted cars, etc. One of the most important factors influencing the environmental gains of the platform is the original means of transportation users substitute by the ride share service.
Results imply that only a fraction of the potential environmental benefits promised by the platform are realised. Only about 15% of passengers switched from their own cars or cars of friends/relatives, while 68% and 16% switched from the train and the bus, respectively. A notable 36% of drivers also substituted trains and buses by driving their own cars within the platform, which indicates that some trips may actually increase the number of cars on the roads instead of reducing them (i.e. if both the driver and his or her passenger(s) switch from public transportation).
In order to further scrutinize the data and better understand the behaviour of users of the drive share platform regarding additional travel after joining the platform, cluster analysis was carried out to identify meaningful subgroups within the sample.
After combinations of several variables were tested the two variables: ‘the frequency of platform use’ and the ‘increase in frequency after registering on the ride share platform’ produced three clusters:
Frequent platform users: high platform usage, low increase in travel
Non-committed users: lower platform usage, no increase in travel
Enthusiasts: medium platform usage, increased travel
Frequent users are predominantly younger women, who live in an average city (not in the capital) and use the platform as passengers. Non-committed users are more often middle-aged men, who live in the capital city or in smaller villages and use the platform as drivers. Finally, enthusiasts are young passengers living in large cities.
Our data indicates the existence of various types of rebound effects as a result of the operation of the drives share platform. Some of these rebound effects may be specific to the Hungarian setting (e.g. a result of poor quality public transportation), but rebound effects most likely characterise drive share platform all around the world, limiting their environmental potentials.
While the overall environmental impact of the platforms still seems to be positive, it is important to understand these rebound effects better in order to design better policy tools in the sharing economy. The rebound effects identified also highlight the importance of a holistic approach when designing transportation policies since the overall benefits of sharing economy platforms may significantly depend on other available means of transportation.
Sharing economy, environmental rebound effect, rideshare platform, transportation
Berkhout, P. H. G., Muskens, J. C., Velthuijsen, J. W. (2000) Defining the Rebound Effect. Energy Policy, 28, 425–432
Böcker, L. & Meelen, T. (2017) Sharing for People, Planet or Profit? Analysing Motivations for Intended Sharing Economy Participation, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 23, 28–39.