Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guest editorial: Car Sharing

Small world. Elizabeth and I are both from Local 520! I had no idea we had such expertise until I ran into her at Head Office one day and we started chatting.

Guest Editorial - Transportation Transformation: Car Sharing
By Elizabeth Reynolds (Member - OPSEU Local 520)
(founder of AutoShare – Car Sharing Network Inc.)

Car Sharing Definition

The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute* offers this comprehensive definition of car sharing: “Carsharing refers to membership-based automobile rental services intended to substitute for private vehicle ownership. It makes occasional use of a vehicle affordable, even for low-income households, while providing an incentive to minimize driving and rely on alternative travel options as much as possible.

Car Sharing in Canada

Car Sharing is perhaps the most significant change in car use patterns since Henry Ford began paying his workers enough to afford one of his cars. When cars were first produced at the turn of the century, they were impractical and expensive, but they did provide an environmental benefit. They cleaned the streets of horse manure. Today, from global warming to asthma, road rage to near-constant gridlock, the car's original benefits to society are now eroding our quality of life.

The automobile's impact is so significant precisely because of its success. Although 80% of Canadians live in cities, Canada has one of the highest ratios of car ownership in the world, nearly one for every two people. More than 16 million cars now traverse Canada's roads. Each car travels, on average, around 16,000 km per year, a total of some 256 billion kilometers.

Integrated Mobility

Car sharing helps create the shift towards more sustainable transportation in two principal ways – by sharing the fixed costs of car ownership among many users and by increasing mobility options, especially when car sharing can be linked to other modes of transportation, such as public transit, railways and inter-city buses, car rentals and taxis, bicycle rentals and parking authorities.

Environmental Concerns

Technological improvements over the last 20 years have already done much to reduce the environmental impact of the individual car, but much of the ground gained through technological improvement is lost as we drive more cars greater distances. We need multiple strategies to address how we will transport goods and ourselves in the coming years — urban planning initiatives, economic strategies, education, and most importantly at the individual level, behavioural change — to lessen our dependence on the automobile.

Because it is so tightly woven into the fabric of our life, the car presents a special kind of environmental dilemma. There is the need to reduce the environmental damage associated with it, while at the same time preserving the advantages it has given us. Reconciling these objectives presents a challenge uniquely met by car sharing.

Numerous studies have, logically, linked increased driving with higher levels of car ownership. The question becomes how to disentangle ownership and use of the automobile. The success of car sharing in Europe over the past 25 to 30 years, and elsewhere in North America over the last decade proves that it provides a level of access similar to car ownership, but less burdensome and costly.

In reality, car sharing participants gradually reduce the total amount they drive quite significantly, 50% and more, without feeling deprived of the resource or any loss of personal mobility. This is achieved by the fact that using a car sharing automobile becomes a conscious, rather than a reflexive, act and over time a much lower level of car dependency is realized.

Additionally, organized car sharing present a real opportunity to introduce alternatively fueled and electric vehicles to a wider market in order to hasten the implementation these advanced technologies, further reducing emissions, and even more so where electricity can be obtained from renewable sources.

Individual and Societal Benefits of Car Sharing

  • Car sharing demonstrably contributes to reduced congestion and air pollution and saves users money. The benefits of car sharing are summarized as follows:
  • Low cost access to a fleet of vehicles through shared use. This benefit reduces the total cost of car travel to individual participants and results in more efficient use of expensive vehicles;
  • Maintenance and insurance are pooled with costs shared among users and recovered through fees;
  • Mobility options are increased through access to cars for those who did not previously own a car. Car sharing can also provide access to different types of vehicles, from economy cars to station wagons, minivans and light trucks. Where these choices are available, mobility options are increased compared with ownership.
  • Car sharing can be a cost-effective alternative to ownership of more than one vehicle;
  • Car owners are confronted with the full marginal costs of a personal vehicle use each time they drive a car share vehicle. Experience has shown that use of public transit, walking, cycling and other alternatives to single occupancy car use, increases among car sharers as they adjust their lifestyle to their new portfolio of transportation options.
  • Since car sharing increases public transit use, transit agencies have a new source of riders and revenue as car sharing grows within urban areas.
  • Studies have shown that car sharing decreases per capita annual vehicle kilometres traveled and energy consumption from personal vehicle use by approximately 50%. This can have a significant impact on the potential to reduce air pollution from cars, including emissions of greenhouse gases and ground level smog.
  • Car sharing can reduce the amount of parking spaces required in cities since the average ratio is one vehicle for approximately 15 to 20 users, and since car sharing vehicles are in use for more hours per day than personally owned vehicles, there are fewer vehicles parked at any one time.
  • For communities, car sharing can mean fewer cars impinging on neighbourhood space and improves social equity for those previously deprived of access to a personal vehicle.
  • Where car sharing vehicles are located at subway and bus stations, car sharing becomes an option for transit riders at both ends of the transit portion of a given trip. In such situations, car sharing can contribute to reduced peak-hour road congestion.
  • Car sharing can improve mobility options and the overall livability of higher density urban developments. Developers of residential, industrial and commercial properties can benefit from the reduced costs of providing parking infrastructure in areas where car sharing is coupled with public transit access and other transportation alternatives.
  • Car sharing can be formally organized as either for-profit or non-profit businesses, but it can also be less formally organized on a neighbourhood, apartment building or workplace basis.

Car sharing is an innovation that can have a profound, long-term impact on how personal vehicles are owned and operated. Shared use of the expensive resource represented by the personal automobile can make an important contribution to reducing many of the negative societal impacts of these vehicles.

* The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (

Note: this is an abbreviated version of an article that appeared in the Journal of World Transportation Policy and Practice in July, 1999. E.R.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brothers and Sisters,There is a car-sharing Co-op in downtown Kingston, for info contact Brendan Kilcline.(

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