A war is mounting in the streets of Los Angeles — a war involving cars with pink mustaches.
Those pink mustaches belong to drivers working for Lyft, one of many companies looking to corner the quickly growing ridesharing market in cities such as Los Angeles.
The long-held image of cabbies — in all the glory of their rusty yellow steeds and torn faux-leather interiors, hefty fares and questionable grasps on traffic laws — might soon face competition from this new breed of drivers.
The goal of ridesharing is to optimize transportation efficiency by tapping into a vital resource: empty seats. By connecting drivers with open seats with those who need rides, ridesharing hopes to provide rides more quickly, cheaply and efficiently, all while eliminating traffic through carpooling.
Over the summer, L.A. taxi drivers protested ridesharing apps such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar and sent the companies cease-and-desist orders. Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, came out in support of the innovative apps in August, and simultaneously pledged to assist taxi companies in modernizing their businesses.
Though court battles over the apps continue to rage in other cities, for now it appears that the apps are not only safe in the cities they currently operate in, but are also expanding. Apps like Zimride and Ridejoy, as well as L.A. staples Lyft and Uber, are expanding quickly in prime markets throughout the country.
USC industrial engineering Professor Maged Dessouky, who has researched transportation optimization for more than 17 years, said that the ridesharing industry will likely see a marked increase in popularity over the next few years.
This can be traced to rising gas prices and the increasing frequency of freeway tolls, which Dessouky believes will soon force societies to figure out ways to maximize road efficiency.
“The price saturation point in terms of gas and tolls, along with the time savings of ridesharing, will make it an alternative,” Dessouky said.
Within the ridesharing system, drivers set certain hours when they will pick up anyone who calls them on the app, while a network in the service allows users to rate their experiences.
According to CNN, ridesharing’s largest demographic is between the ages of 18 and 35. This isn’t immediately apparent at USC, though.
Out of 10 students randomly interviewed by the Daily Trojan, four had heard of ridesharing before, with three saying that they had heard positive reviews.
The bigger issue for newer ridesharing companies is that none of the surveyed students had actually used the services.
They cited various reasons, but the consensus seemed to be that while it’s a nice idea, most students had little use for it.
“I would rather take the Metro,” said Elvy Fuentes, a junior majoring in human biology. “A car is a really close space to be with a stranger.”
But Dessouky believes that if they gave the services a chance, potential users would return.
“What we’ve found is that when passengers try it once, they’re hooked,” he said.
In general, safety concerns seemed to be minimal among students. In fact, many students pointed out that ridesharing could function as a safer alternative to public transit at night.
Others said that it could potentially be more convenient than other forms of transportation due to its use of smartphone technology.
Ridesharing’s lower price point also proved to be the largest pull for many students. Eight of the 10 students surveyed said they would consider using a ridesharing service as an alternative to a cab, and every one of them cited price as one of the principle factors in their decision.
“On a student budget, I’d like to know how much I was about to spend,” said Sivi Ananthasingam, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences. “I think it’s growing. A lot of students are looking for cheaper ways to get around, and a lot of people don’t really have cars here.”
Dessouky believes that the college demographic has strong potential for interest in the car-sharing market.
“Students are the ultimate market for this,” he said. “Students don’t have cars, but they have smartphones and they aren’t afraid of technology.”