Today's ride-sharing users travel in a motley assortment of cars repurposed from livery services or private use. But Volkswagen thinks a vehicle tailored specifically to ride sharing is a better way to go, and it just unveiled such a vehicle.
Basically an electric van, the unnamed vehicle is actually a product of Moia, which Volkswagen describes as an in-house "mobility startup." Despite being a unit of a major automaker, Moia's goal is to get one million cars off the road through sharing services. Its prototype vehicle could be perfect for that job.
The van has a range of more than 300 kilometers (186 miles), and is equipped with DC fast charging that allows for an 80-percent recharged in 30 minutes, according to VW. It can carry up to six passengers, who sit in individual bucket seats for added comfort, rather than the benches used in most conventional passenger vans. Each seat has its own reading light and USB port, and the van itself is equipped with onboard Wi-Fi. Luggage is stowed next to the driver in order to free up more room for passengers in back.
With its emphasis on carrying multiple passengers in comfort, the Moia van seems to be tailored to a shuttle service like Ford's Chariot rather than conventional ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, in which only one person rides in a car at a time in most cases. That gives Moia a better shot at taking lots of cars off the road.
Putting multiple passengers into one vehicle is the only way for ridesharing to really reduce traffic congestion. A mass switch to ridesharing won't achieve that if the same number of people are traveling in the same number of cars. A recent University of California Davis study found that services like Uber and Lyft can actually increase traffic congestion in cities, because people are more inclined to take more trips if they don't have to drive.
Volkswagen will begin testing the van in a pilot ride-sharing program in the German city of Hamburg next year. Riders will be able to hail one of a fleet of vans using a dedicated app, which will group passengers in vehicles based on their destinations. VW has hinted at plans for an Uber-rivalling ride-sharing service, but for now, the company isn't discussing specific plans for anything beyond the Hamburg pilot.