Assessing Viability of Car-Sharing for Low-Income Communities

Carsharing technology has become an important transportation option in population-dense, car-centric cities in the U.S. (e.g., Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City) over the past 20 years as it provides mobility and promotes public transit ridership without vehicle ownership. For successful implementation, pro-carsharing policies and incentives have also actively supported the carsharing programs. However, transportation engineers and policymakers have not fully considered aspects of social equity such as the accessibility and affordability of the program across populations and communities. Members of low-income communities may benefit especially from the technology due to lower rates of vehicle ownership and high dependency on public transit; however, scant research has been conducted exploring these individuals’ knowledge of, willingness to use, and actual utilization of carsharing programs. This study seeks to explore current carsharing implementation and to assess the technology as a viable transportation option for the low-income and transit-dependent population. Social workers and transportation engineers collaborate to measure this population’s accessibility needs, affordability requirements, and willingness to use carsharing. A mixed methodology will be used. In phase 1, a spatial analysis on current carsharing implementation and quantitative data analysis will be applied to understand carsharing operations in different locations and populations. In phase 2, the researchers will conduct focus groups with service providers providing assistance in low-income communities in order to assess their awareness of and sense of clients’ willingness to use carsharing. The study will produce potential strategies for the policymakers, as well as pilot data to create a quantitative survey for follow-up research exploring various options in an autonomous transportation era for individuals who are at high risk of transportation disadvantage.