Cracking the Timely Mile

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“The Timely Mile” is about to be cracked with Lyft’s new program called Scheduled Rides.

The “Timely Mile” is about waiting for a bus or taxi, and fearing that the service will not show up on time. Rather than run that risk, people will choose to drive themselves. Driving takes precedence when you have to get to the airport on time, or show up promptly for an appointment or business deal.

Scheduled Rides 

Lyft has a solution for the “Timely Mile” with a new program. The pilot, in San Francisco, is called Scheduled Rides. It allows riders tap a clock icon and set the desired time for a pickup. Their trip can be scheduled up to 24 hours in advance but cancelled up to 30 minutes before the requested time.

“Scheduled Rides” may seem like a small wave but it has the potential to be a bigger swell. The ability to control  “Timely Miles” can bring new riders, and new opportunities for transit network companies (TNCs).

Today, public transit and walking have become more accessible because the TNCs help sort out the “first/last mile” issues for users. Now, “Scheduled Rides” begins to sort out a different piece of the transportation puzzle. It can help time-sensitive car owners feel less dependent on the need to drive.

Old and Timely

Admittedly, transportation to/from the airport will be first.

Still, one the first markets for “Scheduled Rides” will be seniors. Seniors frequently depend on public transportation to get to and from appointments, but are still reluctant to use Uber and Lyft.  Since 1983, the number of medical trips made by people aged 50 and older has increased fourfold. Yet, transportation options have not kept up. An estimated 3.6 million Americans, of all age groups, miss or delay medical care because they lack appropriate transportation to their appointment.

It is a trust issue for elders, to know when a vehicle is scheduled to come, and when a different one is scheduled for the trip back home. The most needy and dependent seniors are accustomed to scheduling paratransit for medical trips, but there are numerous stories of the paratransit van not showing up on time, or even missing the stop entirely.  Currently, trips made in paratransit vehicles do not tend to serve anyone well… the average cost of a paratransit ride is currently $45.00 in Boston, and elsewhere.  Since the 1970’s, public transit agencies have had to foot the excessive cost of this specialized, one-on-one service.

Older people who use these services have been “conditioned” to book ahead, sometimes as much as a week in advance. When they switch to a program like Lyft’s Scheduled Rides there will be comfort knowing that the trip has been scheduled in advance. And, because so many older people are awkward using their smartphones for transportation, the 24 hour waiting period will give them the opportunity to check and recheck that they made the booking correctly. Over time, they are likely to become more familiar with how to do a successful booking with their phones.

A prediction is that once older people are comfortable and at ease with this process they will be willing taking many more trips on Lyft and Uber. These will be new trips for shopping, leisure, visits, and recreation.

Younger and Stranded

It would be an oversight to think that Lyft’s program only addresses the “Timely Mile” for the elderly. More than likely, the inspiration for the program came from an anxious Lyft employee working at home in the suburbs of Vallejo Ca. or Pacifica, Ca. wondering if they could make a 5a.m. flight from SFO without driving alone.

There are probably similar stories throughout the suburbs. These suburbanites are already registered with a TNC and use it when they work or travel to a big urban area. But, because they reside in America’s far-flung suburbs where public transit is scant, even taxi service can be unpredictable.

It is not to say that Lyft can guarantee that a driver and vehicle will show up in these far-flung suburbs…Lyft has not released the “behind the curtain magic” that powers the Scheduled Rides algorithm. In today’s suburbia, there does not appear to be a driver available for every need at every hour. That, in itself, may be an important reason that both Lyft and Uber are pursuing partnerships with autonomous vehicles. But, until that technology rolls out, having Scheduled Rides stitches closer together the needs of suburban residents and on-demand vehicles.

Lyft seems to be opening a new playbook- one that can blossom into shared rides everywhere/anytime.

Understand Vehicle Trends? Ask a Woman

 

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 If you wanted to understand vehicle trends and jumpstart the autonomous car, it is good practice to ask a woman. Although females are underrepresented in the auto industry— they hold only 27% of the jobs in motor vehicles and manufacturing and compose ~14% to ~30% of Uber/Lyft drivers, they have a remarkable ability to spot market niches and trends.  

In a recent blog, we noted that older women will be the “first responders” for autonomous vehicles. There are numerous reasons: women are likely to be living alone in far-flung suburbs, but recognize, at an earlier age their limitations as safe drivers.  Women are also more inclined than male drivers to ask directions (!), to use public transit, and be less wrapped up in an image-driven car culture.

The ability of women to nail transportation trends has a long, if somewhat muted, history.

The electric vehicle (EV) was, and perhaps remains the woman’s vehicle of choice. In 1898, the first woman to buy a car selected an EV and  in 1908 Henry Ford bought one for his wife, Clara. Electric vehicles were favored by women. Although the EVs did not have the range of gas powered vehicles, they were quieter, did not smell of petro, and importantly, were easier to start since gas powered cars had to be cranked by hand.  Since they EVs were used for local city travel, range-anxiety had yet to be invented. There might have been a niche market for the electric car, but the desire for acceleration and range took hold and left the electric car in the dust.

Speed up 100 years though, and we again have women pioneering electric vehicles. According to a recent Forbes Asia story, while Tesla and Apple are (re)working electric car technologies, a women entrepreneur from the Southern Indian city of Coimbatore is pioneering a different segment- electric cycles, scooters, and load carriers.

The entrepreneur, Hemalatha Annamalai, is focusing on the mobility needs in smaller towns. Her customers are farmers, shopkeepers and rural traders. These communities have been overlooked by the big automotive players, even Tata. She has also, per Forbes, developed a battery-powered vehicle for the disabled that travels 16 miles per hour, and has a 25 mile range.

While some might see India as a special case, a female entrepreneur here in the U.S., also succeeded when she identified a new automotive niche. Robin Chase, challenged the model of individual car ownership. Chase, the former CEO and founder of Zipcar, then started a peer-to-peer car service that was sold to Drivy. Chase has never valued speed, style, and beauty over the more basic intrinsic need to get from point A to point B.

Returning to the story of the electric car,  UC Davis researchers noted in 2012 that women composed just 29% of Nissan Leaf owners, 24% for the Volt , and just 16% for the 16% of Tesla S.  When the researchers  studied the driving habits of electric vehicle adopters, they found that women had more anxiety about range. Perhaps their mindset went  like this: “What if…the kids gets sick, what if… grandma needs a ride, or someone asks me for a lift…”.  

The men (and women) designing cars might take note. On the one hand, they can either continue to market gas powered cars with better mileage, or… and this is the clinch…address range anxiety by engineering an easy way to swap out batteries, provide flash recharging stations, or keeping a small petro cache.

There are multiple ways to harness a new technology, and a trajectory of different paths that could be followed. The key is that if women ruled the automotive boardroom (today they are just 16%) and were more influential in engineering and planning, we would probably be on a faster path towards developing a quieter, electric, and fully autonomous car. Even so, we will probably get there, but it will be, ironically,  a slower journey.

 

Women First for Autonomous Cars

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“It’s women first for autonomous cars.”  That is, older women, who may discover the advantages of the autonomous car sooner, and cede their driving skills faster than men.  Men and women from the Boomer cohort are past their peak driving age, but continue to dominate the car market. With the autonomous car on the horizon, older women might “steer” the market shift.

When they lined up for driver’s licenses at age 16, it was boys who led the pack. Today, as the oldest Boomers reach age 70, it is Boomer women who will play a pivotal role. There are deep cultural reasons to anticipate they can be trailblazers.

WOMEN AS TRAILBLAZERS: SHEER NUMBERS

In a previous blog, we noted the match between aging Boomers and future autonomous cars. We suggested that they might be early adopters as autonomous cars can help Boomers maintain their independence and well-being. The autonomous car is also vital, on a more basic level, to keep Boomers connected, particularly if they live in far-flung suburbs not served by public transportation.

Women will be the trailblazers for a number of reasons. The first reason is actuarial: More of the residents who live in the far-flung suburbs will be widows or divorcees, i.e. single women.  Since 1990, the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 has doubled.  Large numbers of women have achieved financial independence and autonomy…and choose to live alone. The other reason is that older women live longer. In the U.S. the male to female ratio falls to .72  beyond age 65.  While not all older, single women will choose to “age in place” those who do need a safe, reliable, and trustworthy mode of transportation. That key could be the autonomous vehicle.

 

WOMEN AS TRAILBLAZERS: SAFER, SLOWER

Women are likely to innovate for other reasons too. Most likely, they will have a different “take” on mobility. Researchers have found that older women are more likely to hang up the car keys than men and recognize when they are no longer capable drivers.  In an older study (1993) it was found that 84 percent of men age 75 to 79 were still driving, but only 60 percent of women; after age 85, more than half of the men still drove, compared to 22% of women. Perhaps women are more likely to follow safety advice from their medical advisors or kin. Or, women may have a more tangible fear of injuring a pedestrian or fellow passenger. Whatever the reasons, women drive less “sooner”.

The Baby Boom generation is significantly different than other groups of elders when it comes to cars. They were the first cohort to have “his” and “her” vehicles, propelled by the dual-income family. Boomer women became unwitting chauffeurs for kids and teens, as well as aging parents. Helping with their older parents has sensitized Boomer women to the importance of keeping mobile and having a backup as you age in place.

The majority of Boomers, about 70 percent of men and women, live in suburbs that are not served by public transportation. That leaves a big gap between their geographic location and their future needs. It is said that the average travel for a doctor’s visit is ten miles, and even a trip to the grocery store or hairdresser might be fairly remote. Compelling data comes from a  1993-1995 study by Foley et al, using life-expectancy tables: it was estimated that male drivers aged 70 to 74 would be dependent on alternative sources of transportation for approximately 7 years and female drivers for approximately 10 years.

WOMEN AS TRAILBLAZERS: FUNCTIONAL NEEDS

The promising news, is that Boomer women are not as vested in the symbolic car-culture as men.  Women, for the most part, do not buy muscle cars, big trucks, nor do they favor race vehicles.  A stereotype, but women drivers do clearly enjoy their minivans and large SUVs. There has been a utilitarian purpose underlying these models- driving the kids or the grandparents, plus groceries for the household.

A future utilitarian but functional autonomous car will probably be less of an affront to their driving sensibility. Meanwhile, it will also free them from tire shopping and visiting the auto mechanic, outings that are not ranked favorably by women of any age. But, the most important, and liberating aspect of the autonomous car is that it will get them places, and help them maintain their independence and a car-centric lifestyle, learned and practiced over a lifetime.

Boomers Shape Auto Industry Trends

car+phoneBaby Boomers have shaped auto industry trends over the past forty years and they will continue to be influencers. Although America may have passed “peak auto” this cohort has not peaked when it comes to Detroit. The Boomers, currently ages 52 to 70, will have a substantial effect on the types of vehicles that are produced, and provide a ready market for innovation.

The underlying reason has to do with their sheer number, and demographics. Plus, of course, aging-in -suburbia.

AN OLDER, READY MARKET

In 2020 when the first self- driving cars reach the market, the oldest Boomers will be reaching age 75. Safety and mobility issues will be high on their agenda. By 2035, when most new cars are predicted to be capable of driving themselves, the oldest Boomers will be close to 90 and the youngest will be in their 70s.

Polls show that even today, there is a surprising level of interest in the self-driving car among older people. Autonomous cars will find a ready market with Baby Boomers as they grow older or frail. In contrast to other types of innovation, it is the disenfranchised- in this case, those who cannot or should not drive, who could be innovation pioneers. A Google car spokesperson, Chris Urmson, intuited this in a recent talk.

The Boomers differ from other generations in how they think about the need for cars. For this cohort, travel by car is synonymous with independence and well being. This association might have been cultivated by 40 years of popular culture- think images of cars and the good life depicted in TV shows, movies, SuperBowl Ads, and billboards. Having access to a car will continue to be vital to aging Boomers, as the majority do not know of a different lifestyle.

CHANGING THE OWNERSHIP

Meanwhile, as the autonomous car both prequels and propels mobility, there is a second trend that the Boomers will need to assimilate. Although Boomers may be accustomed to owning or leasing their personal vehicle, they are likely to discover, and prefer, a different business model.

Rather than owning a vehicle that sits idle 96 percent of the time, Boomers and other users will transact mobility with their cell phones in order to order a trip-based vehicle. Even in the suburbs, cars might evolve into a “travel-on-demand” service. This radical change has benefits for older people, who no longer need to buy and maintain a vehicle, and bear rising insurance costs. A car-on-demand will help ensure safer travel in a state-of-the-art vehicle. And, in keeping with their reverence, the car-on-demand might turn out to be stylish and luxurious too, a vehicle that can reflect their personal tastes, as well as the more basic need to travel.

EMPTY GARAGES AND FULL TRIPS

Meanwhile, imagine the emptiness of the suburban home with its capacious two- car garage and 400 to 600 square feet of open space. Planners have begun to talk about repurposing the parking spaces that the autonomous car will free up (up to an estimated 24% of the area in U.S. cities) but they have not paid attention to the more lowly suburban garage.

Boomers have had a love affair with the car throughout their lives, and current data suggests that they are not cutting back on their driving as they age. This is the generation that has innovated with cars in many ways: they ushered in the two car family, vastly increased VMT (vehicle miles traveled), and substituted vehicles for short trips instead of on bike or foot.
As they get older, the Boomers will continue to be the generation on the forefront of automotive change. As their age and infirmities bring new mobility needs, the automotive industry (and tech firms) will find this generation to be ready first-responders.