Tomorrow’s World: How can we better utilise the resources and skills that exist within?

We are currently witnessing a global trend where communities are better utilising the resources and skills that exist within. From people being able to rent a room in someone’s house on Airbnb to finding someone who has the skills to assemble that IKEA flatpack on TaskRabbit, technology is simplifying how people who are looking for something can connect with those who are willing to provide it.

Uber is a company that aspires to provide a ride within minutes, via the touch of a button on your smartphone, accomplished by connecting people looking for lifts with qualified, local drivers.

With almost one million cars on Northern Irish roads, the opportunity to provide communities with reliable and more affordable access to car transportation is breathtakingly transformational.

If we can convert more of these one million cars into our accessible transportation system, we can build a service that challenges people’s need to own their own private car.

With fewer private cars on our roads, we can reduce carbon emissions, ease congestion, and reclaim the space that we have surrendered to car parking spaces in our towns and cities (more bike lanes and parks, perhaps?). However, we can only reduce the number of private cars on the roads by giving people a more convenient option than driving themselves. In order to do this, we need to increase the number of rentable cars, so there is always a car available when it’s needed. By reducing some of the bureaucratic barriers to entry, such as the need for expensive meters, receipt printers and roof signs, we can make becoming a driver a more attractive proposition for people.

For drivers, it means that they can turn that expensive car into a new economic opportunity, by driving their fellow citizens from A to B. By working with platforms like Uber, it means that drivers have access to these economic opportunities whenever it suits them. The flexibility of being able to turn the App on and off to fit their lifestyle allows people to drive as little or as often as they’d like. Whether it be to supplement the family income while the kids are at school during the day; to earn some extra money to pay for an unexpected bill; or to fill the gaps between unemployment or underemployment, it opens the door for people in all of our communities to earn money from sharing their driving skills.

For passengers, this equates to a safe, reliable and affordable service that provides mobility around the clock and helps them to better connect to main public transport hubs.

For cities and towns, this provides a complement to current public transport by providing a ‘last mile’ solution to people’s doors. It also comes at no cost to government. We are simply using the existing cars and roads infrastructure more efficiently.

The technology used in apps like Uber’s makes it safer and more enticing for more people in our communities to offer their services as a driver. Unlike taxiing, there is no need for drivers to have to carry cash – all transactions are facilitated by the card on the passenger’s account. There are no anonymous passengers. When a driver accepts a trip request, their passenger’s details have already been validated. Journeys are mapped via GPS, and both passenger and driver are asked to rate their experience at the end. Of those signing up with the platform in the US, we are now seeing that 30% of new drivers are female, thanks in part to these increased safety features; this was traditionally an underrepresented section of our community in the transportation industry.

Embracing these technology platforms has exciting benefits for our communities and should be a core platform in our future transportation planning.

Kieran Harte is one of the speakers at the 2016 Responsible Business Summit, held at Belfast Waterfront Hall on Wednesday, 5 October and organised by Business in the Community Northern Ireland.