Evaluating the Potential of Cooperative Ridesourcing: A Case Study of Arcade City in Austin, Texas

Our project team believes that an evaluation of AC Austin will fill knowledge gaps and provide important and novel insights into the benefits and drawbacks of decentralized cooperative sharing platforms as compared to more prevalent centralized commercial approaches.


Research team

Sara Stephens

As the Housing Program Director, Sara coordinates the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s policy advocacy, education, and client support for more just and affordable housing. She also provides legal support to the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative. In the Cooperatives Program, Sara coordinates co-oplaw.org, a legal resource library for cooperatives, as well as the development of a legal practice guide for cooperative attorneys. Sara authored the model city ordinance that the Law Center has been working with local cities to adopt in order to incentivize worker cooperatives as an economic development strategy. Sara also offers legal advice to cooperatives, focusing on immigrant-owned businesses and conventional businesses converting to worker ownership. Learn more about Sara here.

Adam Stocker

Adam Stocker is a is a transportation engineer and researcher with more than five years of experience working in transportation analysis in the private, public, and academic sectors. In addition to serving as a consultant to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, he holds a research and project management position with the Innovative Mobility group of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC), where he designs and executes studies that assess the travel behavior, societal, and environmental effects of shared mobility. His research interests also include digital platform cooperatives, with an emphasis on applications related to transportation. You can learn more about Adam and his work here.

Project description

Digital sharing platforms have expanded in popularity over the past decade as technology has increased connectivity and reduced transaction costs, making sharing assets and services cheaper and easier than before. However, serious equity, labor, and environmental problems can arise when consolidated power is held by a small number of platform owners who often use unfair and extractive techniques to benefit themselves and their shareholders as opposed to the platform users and society as a whole. Platform cooperatives are an emerging approach to more centralized ‘sharing economy’ platforms that involve cooperatively owned, democratically governed platforms to facilitate the sale of goods or exchange of services.

In May 2016, Uber and Lyft exited the Austin, Texas market when the city voted for stricter fingerprint background checks for drivers. More than a half dozen other ridesourcing organizations emerged in their absence, including Arcade City (AC) Austin, a decentralized ridesourcing cooperative which serves as a platform for coordinating on-demand rides, deliveries, and other services between requesters and drivers. At present, AC Austin consists of a 40,000-member Facebook group that is not incorporated and is entirely operated and governed by its members. 

Our project team believes that an evaluation of AC Austin will fill knowledge gaps and provide important and novel insights into the benefits and drawbacks of decentralized cooperative sharing platforms as compared to more prevalent centralized commercial approaches.


Research questions

What factors are important for sustaining operations and ensuring equitable governance of decentralized cooperative ridesourcing platforms like AC Austin? 

What are the environmental impacts of AC Austin’s current operations and what are the environmental implications of decentralized transportation cooperatives compared to their more centralized counterparts in general?

What policy frameworks and proactive governance approaches can be implemented by both regulators and transportation cooperatives themselves to ensure effective, equitable, and environmentally sustainable operations?


Methodology

For this research project, we will first conduct a literature review of AC’s formation and history in Austin, of transportation cooperatives in general, of digital platform cooperatives, and of blockchain-based decentralized organizations, to evaluate the current understanding of these systems. We will also review policies at the city, state, and federal levels that affect AC’s operational model, and will explore internal cooperative policies and best practices that could benefit AC and cooperative shared mobility systems.

We will collect original data through three methodological approaches: 1) trip data, 2) stakeholder interviews, and 3) survey data. Trip data will be collected through the AC Austin Facebook page, stakeholder interviews will be recorded and summarized within the final report, and survey data will be collected through an online survey mechanism. These data will be analyzed and outlined within the final report and associated short online articles.


Broader impacts

As more of our work, transactions, and daily life are brought to the digital realm, we will need to bring further scrutiny to prominent ‘sharing economy’ organizational structures, which are enabling widening economic inequality between owners, users, and workers. Although there is a small yet expanding body of research focused on frameworks for building equitable platform cooperatives, there has been little to no work thus far examining how existing platform cooperatives actually operate and govern themselves, in reality. For this reason, AC Austin offers a particularly unique opportunity to examine the real-world implications of a functioning transportation platform cooperative and to inform the benefits and challenges of decentralized sharing platforms.


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