Carpooling has historically been a hard sell to commuters. Whether it’s the convenience of driving themselves or the lure of cheap gasoline, the percentage of Americans who share rides to work peaked at 19.7 percent in 1980 and has fallen by more than half over the past three decades. But with more people rethinking the way they get around amid an influx of new app-based transportation options, one global automotive supplier is banking on carpooling making a comeback.
Bosch announced Tuesday it has acquired Splitting Fares, a Detroit startup that provides a software platform through which companies can offer carpooling options to their employees. Bosch recently created a new division, Connected Mobility Services, and its new acquisition will function as an independent subsidiary within that unit.
While the likes of Uber and Lyft already deliver ride sharing for the masses, Splitting Fares, better known as SPLT, has essentially carved a niche within ride sharing. It sells its platforms specifically to business and others, such as universities, who want to set up shared transportation for their employees and students. Carpooling rides can be set up as one-time occurrences or as recurring trips.
Using an app, workers can connect with others in their organizations who share similar commutes. Then an algorithm computes their fastest route to the office. Bookings can be made both in advance or on demand. With service operational in the United States, Germany, and Mexico, SPLT says it already has approximately 140,000 users. New markets are planned as part of the Bosch deal, although there are no specifics yet available.
Bosch says the number of people worldwide using
ride-sharing services is expected to grow by 60 percent
to 685 million.
Like Uber and Lyft, SPLT doesn’t own vehicles that operate within its network—those details are entirely up to customers. Large companies might hire drivers and run their own vehicles on dedicated routes, while employees at smaller businesses could essentially operate as ride-sharing drivers, using their own cars to haul their colleagues to work while earning back some of their commuting costs.
Ford has started similar services with its Chariot shuttle subsidiary, which works with businesses to establish routes that help employees get to and from transportation hubs to their places of employment. Chariot lets employers determine those routes and gives them an option to open the service to the general public to help defray the costs of running the service, a blurring of sorts between the business-to-business and business-to-consumer models. For now, SPLT is sticking to the former.
While SPLT got its start as part of the Techstars Mobility startup incubator in Detroit in 2015, Bosch has long been among the auto industry leaders in developing autonomous- and connected-car technology. A recent report from Navigant Research ranked the company’s collaboration with Daimler on automated driving systems as the third best among the 19 companies pursuing such technology.
The acquisition of SPLT gives Bosch a foothold in the connected-mobility realm. “Smartphones are becoming the most important means of travel,” says Markus Heyn, a member of the company’s board of management.
He projects double-digit growth, especially as the company adds new markets. In some respects, it’s easy to see why. By 2020, Bosch says the number of people worldwide using ride-sharing services is expected to grow by 60 percent, to 685 million. That increase comes at a time when the number of commuters is climbing, and, as a result, traffic congestion is also rising.
In Germany, roughly two-thirds of the working population chooses the car for daily commuting, according to the German Federal Statistical Office. In the United States, 76.3 percent of commuters say they drove alone to work in 2016, according data from the American Community Survey, a part of the U.S. Census, while 9.3 percent carpool. That’s largely in line with 2013 results from the same survey.
With the proliferation of smartphones and now ride-sharing options, Bosch, through its SPLT subsidiary, is betting it can begin to reverse what has been a very stubborn trend.