Social Mobility Sharing: Faceless Efficiency or Emerging Mode of Human Interaction

Jinhua Zhao, Urban Studies and Planning
Nigel Wilson, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Zhao and Wilson examined the social aspects of the mobility sharing system. By defining the individual preferences of fellow passengers and experimenting with the application of these preferences to enhance the ride sharing experience, they developed matching algorithms that adhere to both transportation network optimization and the individuals’ preferences, or lack of preferences, for human interactions. The research ultimately provides insights into how policies should be crafted to acknowledge travelers’ preferences while setting boundaries against potential discriminatory behavior, such as biases by race or ethnicity.

Unlike common daily social interactions in public or private spaces, the nature of shared car rides is impromptu, “captive” for a considerable time, and more intimate, representing a unique combination of spontaneity and intensity.  It is also distinct from mass transit options such as buses and trains, where most passengers don’t engage each other.

This research combined social science and engineering approaches of in-depth interview, questionnaire survey, revealed preference (RP) and stated preference (SP) modeling, and transportation network optimization and matching algorithm. Researchers employed GIS and spatial analysis techniques to construct the spatial representation of the ride sharing network, and matching models to optimize the sharing network comprised of people and trips regarding their preferences for each other.

“To bring the transportation engineering and the urban planning approaches together is very rewarding,” said researchers. “Framing the mobility sharing problem in a sociological perspective raises challenging methodological questions in the system optimization process, which we have identified and solved. It provides a new direction for the mobility system design and has implications from both the business and public policy perspectives.”

This research has resulted in four peer reviewed journal papers:

Two Postdoctoral associates in the Future Urban Mobility Lab, Hongmou Zhang and Scott Middleton, assisted in this research. Both have working papers ready for publication:

The MIT mobility research website has a page on Social Mobility Sharing which includes but is not limited to the research supported by this IDSS seed grant.

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