To get from Point A to Point B in Denver, people can drive themselves, take the bus or walk. But increasingly there are more options, and not just in Denver.
Most of the new and sort-of-new services could only exist in the Internet age. Some, including Car2Go, Zipcar and OccasionalCar, allow people to borrow cars. B-cycle lends out bikes. And so-called ride-sharing services, such as UberX and Lyft, offer rides in strangers' cars. They all employ smartphone applications, and while some don't require customers to use apps, doing so makes using the services easier. And all of these services are part of the most radical shift in transportation since cars became commonplace.
Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says that on average nationally, membership in all the new services grew about 25 percent a year from 2008 to 2013. She expects growth will continue in a few ways: the number of services, the number of people using them, and the number of places they're available.
Many are up and running in Denver and Boulder, with some reaching Colorado Springs, Aspen and soon Fort Collins. But it’s not just cities; Shaheen says Zipcar, for instance, is on 350 college campuses in the U.S.
"So that’s enabling car sharing to go into a wide variety of campus environments that might be in more rural or less densely populated areas of the country," Shaheen says.
To get a better handle on how practical these transportation alternatives are, CPR News staff members Andrea Dukakis, Elaine Grant and Chloe Veltman picked a few to take out for a spin. I took my own car as a point of comparison. At noontime on a sunny spring weekday, we met at the Mayan Theatre on South Broadway. Our destination: the revamped Union Station about three miles away.
In the end, Chloe Veltman, who caught a ride from an UberX driver, got there first, beating out the B-cycle, Car2Go and my own car. The UberX and Car2Go rides each cost about $10 (although Car2Go first charged a one-time $35 membership fee). Elaine Grant paid $8 to get a one-day B-cycle membership, after which 30-minute rides are free. Veltman noted that ride-sharing services, including UberX and Lyft, have "surge" pricing, so taking one at a peak time would likely cost more.
While cost and time are the most common factors people consider when choosing how to get around, there are other things to consider, according to Nick Bohnencamp, head of Denver Bike Sharing, the organization that oversees Denver B-cycle. "If you ended up with a smile on your face once you got there, how many points did that get you?" he asked.
Despite their growing popularity, these services could be off-limits for people with low incomes because of the smartphone connection and because using them requires a credit or debit card.
Bohnencamp says his organization is aware of those challenges and has worked with the Denver Housing Authority to provide free memberships to some people who live in public housing. And he says efforts are under way to expand that program.
Overall these services are most attractive to young people, Shaheen says, because compared with previous generations, they are less attached to owning their own cars.
"There’s been a lot of research surrounding millennials recently...that suggests they’re more interested in being connected to the Internet and social media than they are in driving and owning private vehicles," she says.