How Lyft, Uber and Taxis Can Share the Road Without Adding Congestion, Fuel Burn, and Pollution to Seattle

June 30, 2014

Roei Ganzarski

The year-long battle on Seattles roadways has ended with a truce of sorts. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced an agreement between the city, taxi companies and the various app-based ride services. Services such as Lyft, Sidecar and UberX can continue to operate with no limits to the number of drivers that can hit the street at a time.

The agreement allows for an unlimited number of app-based drivers to operate, and the city will provide 200 new taxi licenses over the next four years as well. It still needs approval from the City Council, but there is no indication that it wont pass.

The agreement is a big win for both ride-sharing companies and consumers who voiced support for the services. But with no limitations, controls, or guidance in place, what does this mean for an already congested Seattle and greater Puget Sound area?

As these companies fight to win a bigger piece of the on-demand transportation pie, one thing is clear we will see a lot more cars on the road leading to more congestion, more fuel burn, and more emissions. And unfortunately, we can expect to see quite a few of those cars driving around empty while burning fumes, looking and waiting for their next ride.

When everyone wants to get to their destination in the fastest and most efficient way possible, additional cars on the roads works exactly against that goal, with an added side effect of extra pollution.

But it doesnt have to be that way. Leveraging existing real-time network optimization technology can allow these services and taxi companies to work together to help meet demand in an efficient manner, significantly reducing congestion, fuel consumption, and emissions. Think of a central nervous system that continuously analyzes all available information regarding requests, cars, drivers, traffic, etc. This central system, run by a sophisticated real-time dynamic optimization engine, can provide on-the-spot assignments to drivers vis-a-vis riders in the most efficient and effective manner for all involved.

To avoid confusion, this does not refer to street routing (i.e. what streets or route to take to get to a destination quickly), rather this technology refers to the optimized allocation of resources to meet demand, way ahead of starting on a journey.

Network optimization could be done both as an overall transportation initiative and for each operator at their own fleet level. Such a system ensures there is the least amount of vehicles on the road to meet demand in a timely manner. The result riders get to their destination in a flexible way with less traffic, less fuel burn, and less emissions.

The technology is already in use today in complex industries that can shed light on how ride services could work together. As an example, real-time operations optimization technology is used in on-demand aviation. Private aircraft companies, operating large fleets of planes, use such software to provide optimal planning based on demand and resources in real time, resulting in reduced operating costs and reduced numbers of aircraft, all while growing their ability to answer demand. The same technology can be immediately applied to on-demand ground transportation in Seattle.

As more companies enter the market, it is clear that providing a way for these companies to work together efficiently is critical to meeting demand without worsening congestion and pollution. This is increasingly critical as we move to a more on-demand world, managing networks of cars, busses, delivery trucks and planes to make the most of available resources.

Roei Ganzarski is President and CEO of BoldIQ, which provides real-time optimization software in dynamic complex industries such as transportation, energy and aerospace.