What happens when a group of transit wonks ‘Play with Traffic’?
In a sunlit Crystal City penthouse, a few dozen transit wonks and software developers pondered a fundamental question: How can technology be used to improve our experience on the roads?
The answers, derived amid a feast of pizza and soda, took various forms.
Mostly, they involved sharing.
Members of the 1,700-participant group meet monthly at gatherings sponsored by Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County’s commuter services program. The most recent meetup focused on how the sharing economy could improve commuting.
Unlike the door-to-door model popularized by Uber and Lyft, the giants of the industry, true ride sharing “is to try to encourage people to share,” said Larry Filler, bureau chief of Arlington County Commuter Services.
“We have a ground-based system with a lot of seats floating around,” Filler said. “The more you improve the efficiency of the system as a whole, the more there’s opportunity for different choices to be taken. The whole community at large benefits.”
Andriy Klymchuk pitched a modern spin on slugging, the popular form of casual carpooling born in Northern Virginia during the mid-1970s. Klymchuk is one of a dozen people on the team behind Sameride, which aims to pair sluggers and drivers for shared rides to major work destinations.
It’s not the first app to try to digitize the slugging system, but it is different, he said.
“Our major focus is to help to establish new slugging lines,” Klymchuk said.
“All these different groups, some competing against each other, are all still willing to share and interact,” he said.
Other presenters included Ride Leads, developer of the D.C. Taxi app, and Mapbox, a mapping platform for developers, which demonstrated how to create a ride-sharing app using open maps and data.
Prachi Vakharia, engagement director at transportation software company RideAmigos, structured her presentation around helping commuters break old habits.
“How do you create events so you can reduce congestion, reduce the number of people traveling in single-occupancy vehicle cars?” she asked.
Presenters noted that during the 2012 London Olympics, for example, 35 percent of people changed their commutes. Among those, 15 percent maintained their adjusted pattern after the Games ended.
“Even if you get 10 percent of cars off the road, you’ll see a much higher impact in congestion,” Vakharia said.
Vroom said the entrepreneurial spirit on display at the meetup conjured her own transportation “folk hero,” Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.
“Transportation is going through a huge disruption, much quicker than people realize,” she said. “This transportation thing is so fundamental, and so vastly needed. It’s exciting.”