Platforms such as Uber thrive on socio-economic inequality

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Platforms that offer rides to passengers, such as Uber and DiDi, thrive on socio-economic inequality. By modelling the behaviour of passengers and self-employed drivers, researchers of TU Delft simulated the market for ridesourcing platforms, evaluating a broad spectrum of (in)equality levels in societies. It explains why in some cities ridesourcing services can be big players in the mobility system, while in other cities they don’t get off the ground. This research was published in Nature Scientific Reports recently.

What if everybody had the same income? Or what if almost all money was held by one person? With these extremes of (in)equality, TU Delft researchers simulated the market for ridesourcing platforms, such as Uber or DiDi. They uncovered a compelling relationship between socio-economic inequality and the market share of the platforms. Oded Cats, professor of Passenger Transport Systems: "These extremes help contextualize real-world dynamics, where all societies worldwide fall somewhere in between."

Improve access to public transport

To move towards a sustainable urban mobility system, new designs prioritize the enhancement of public transport. Understanding how to reinforce public transit and improve access to public transport hubs for passengers is crucial. "In cities like Amsterdam, with relatively low inequality, short travel distances and well-established bicycle and public transport networks, Uber is unlikely to flourish," researcher Arjan de Ruijter explains. "Therefore, transport authorities in such cities should rather focus on providing shared bikes and scooters to improve station access."

Inexpensive rides for affluent people

Conversely, in cities marked by significant inequality, like Johannesburg or Rio de Janeiro, Uber-like ridesourcing platforms thrive. Various explanations, taking into account driver’s and passenger’s behaviour, emerge in the study. The platform capitalises on a workforce willing to accept lower wages, leading to a service with limited waiting times for passengers. Moreover, it acknowledges the demand for mobility on demand among the affluent segments of unequal societies, willing to pay for a premium-like service.

Designing inclusive mobility

These insights can explain and predict the potential dominance of Uber-like services in the design of a mobility system. Adding to that, it provides guidance for designing inclusive mobility systems and assessing the necessity for regulatory measures. De Ruijter observed how these platforms adapt their strategies based on inequality: "In a society with high inequality, companies can charge higher commissions to drivers, as drivers have limited alternative labour opportunities." Cats adds: "On the other hand, in societies with low inequality, all’else being equal, pricing strategies must attract more selective job seekers, resulting in lower commission rates." This illustrates the interplay between socio-economic factors and the viability of ridesourcing platforms.

Meal delivery services

Because of the lack of data on ridesourcing market shares in different cities, the researchers decided to model the behaviour of the key players in the market and experiment with different market settings. Their model may also be useful in investigating inequality effects in meal and grocery delivery markets, provided by platforms such as Just Eat Takeaway and Getir. These service-platforms also seem to flourish on a group of relatively affluent users willing to pay for service, and a group of drivers willing to do low-wage work.

This research is part of CriticalMaaS at the Smart Public Transport Lab. Within this program, researchers develop and tests theories and models to explain and predict the performance of flexible on-demand transport services offered by Mobility as a Service providers.

Ridesourcing platforms thrive on socio-economic inequality by Arjan de Ruijter, Oded Cats and Hans van Lint
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