GBA Lifestyle News
By Kate Springer | March 8th, 2016

Hong Kong commuters contend with several issues on a daily basis — jam-packed MTR rides, terrible traffic and frequent taxi deserts. To combat traffic congestion and an environment in crisis, RYDE founder Terence Zou says we should all start carpooling.

A little background

Founder Terence Zou studied at Harvard Business School and worked in investment banking before starting RYDE carpooling app, a Singapore-based social enterprise that is launching in Hong Kong this May. He came up with the idea while waiting for a cab in Singapore. Zou was stranded and eventually had to call a friend to pick him up, which gave way to his idea for location-driven carpooling. The app enables using a matching mechanism to find carpools based on proximity and destination. Users can share ideas for carpools, or they can search in real-time to see who is close by and heading in the same direction.

5 things you need to know, according to Zou

1. Hong Kong has an increasing traffic problem

There are about 30 million passenger trips daily every day in Hong Kong. Close to 80 percent of those are taken on public transportation, another 10 percent by taxis, and another 10 percent by private cars.

Private cars take up 70% of the vehicle fleet, but only carry 11.3% of the total daily passengers. Based on the Hong Kong Transport Advisory Committee’s studies, the average occupancy is only 1.5 in Hong Kong, meaning that most cars are underutilized.

All of these empty cars contribute to the congestion problem in Hong Kong. In the past, if you wanted to improve the traffic situation, you would add more roads to make more room. You keep building and building to keep up with increasing demand for traffic, but on Hong Kong Island it is land-scarce.

You can’t just keep reclaiming land. That’s a temporary solution. The issue is a resource issue. The empty seats in these 520,000 private cars can be mobilized to provide a supply. Whenever you carpool, you make the decision not to drive your own car and that takes one car off the roads

2. Fewer vehicles means fewer emissions

Hong Kong has seen rising NO2 levels on the roadside, increasing 9 percent between 2009 and 2013. Air pollution is a serious issue in Hong Kong and driving solo on the roads contributes to the problem.

When you carpool, you reduce the need for one less street-hire taxi that is coasting around the city empty. This definitely reduces congestion. And every kilometer carpooled can potentially take away 187 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. So this is a good way contribute to better, more eco-friendly habits.

In the past we didn’t have GPS, or social networks or smart phones, and with these three factors now in place carpooling can actually take off. It’s not a new idea, but now it’s easier to find someone who is making the same trip and connect with them.

With the sharing economy experience, you help cut down the number of cars on the road while having the chance to meet people from different walks of life. It’s a completely different experience from taking a taxi.

3. But it goes beyond the carbon emissions

Globally there are 1 billion cars and they take up a great proportion of the road space. By 2030 it’s projected that cars will contribute 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

We have a real need for fewer cars on the road, and less production as well. Carpooling can contribute to solving this global problem. We need to reduce the need to own a car and simply provide easy access instead.

If you don’t buy a car, then there’s no production and there’s less consumption, and therefore less pollution and wastage. So it goes even beyond the carbon emissions. On a very macro level it’s a resource optimization issue.

4. And it’s a social way to get around

Ironically, even though you’re on the MTR with thousands of other people, it’s a lonely experience. Everyone is staring at their phones and it’s not a very social setting. But when you carpool you get to meet new people, and it’s good for society to have those connections.

You might be able to network, increase your social circle, increase your business contacts, or simply start the day happier. You could meet a future spouse, future partner — the possibilities are endless. The need to connect with people is true no matter where you are.

5. Sharing is a more sustainable way forward

The sharing economy is already here. You have Airbnb, sites that will do errands, peer-to-peer financing and more. Carpooling is just one part of the whole landscape that is evolving.

Technology is the key thing that’s enabling the sharing economy to take off. To share, you have to have some form of trust, whether it’s through social networks, verified reviews, or a way to get to know each other a bit better.

You can start doing it tomorrow and do a little bit every day towards a more sustainable way of life.

And looking towards the future?

We had the internet wave in the 1990s, the Dot Com bubble, the social media wave, and the next wave I think is the sharing economy. It’s very powerful because it actually connects people.

On one side, there’s a lot of supply — whether it’s houses, cars, books, time — and on the other side are the people with the demand. A sharing economy can empower and also potentially disrupt innovation in the next decade.

It’s for the best, because it means we are becoming more human again, and connecting with each other. In the process, it’s also better for the environment because we’re cutting down on production and waste. 

Carpooling will be just one of the many ways to live a more sustainable life. More technologies are coming forward, like electric cars, all with the aim to reduce emissions and make our daily commute and daily life a little bit more pleasant.

As the population grows and there are more people per square kilometer, we need to find new ways to solve the problem and not just build more roads. We need to find other ways to optimize our resources.