Have you ever heard of CarSharing? Put briefly, it’s a great way to get access to a vehicle, without the costs and hassles of ownership. A report by Navigant Research estimated the size of the market at 2.3 million global users in 2013, with predicted growth up to 12 million by 2020. Research by Susan Shaheen at the UC Berkeley calculated 4.8 million global users in 2014, with previous years growth rates ranging from 39-65%. If you haven’t heard of CarSharing yet, it’s probably already near you or arriving soon.
In reality, CarSharing is not a particularly new concept. The roots of modern CarSharing go back to at least the mid 20th century in Europe with various attempts in Switzerland, Amsterdam, France, Germany, and England. In North America the concept arrived in Quebec City and Vancouver in the early 1990s and a decade later had spread to most major urban centres (Kitchener-Waterloo, where Community CarShare started was Ontario’s first city in 1998). Most exciting in the past few years has been the expansion of CarSharing beyond Europe and North America with many African, Latin American, and Asian countries now having access to this service.
It’s also important to be clear what we mean by CarSharing. Not to be confused with carpooling (travelling together in someone’s personal vehicle), typically CarSharing is a round trip service where the vehicle comes back to the same spot you got it from. But, new models are quickly emerging such as one-way, free floating, peer to peer models, and many others. What about autonomous vehicles you ask? That will only further diversify the amount of CarSharing that is available and help bring the concept to the mainstream.
In my line of work I often hear “CarSharing would be great for someone who is a student” and that’s a great starting point. Post-secondary education is where you will form the habits of your adult life and CarSharing should be in your world during that decision making time. Let’s also be frank, North American levels of car ownership cannot and should not be replicated on a global scale if we are to start reducing global carbon emissions. Local data in Waterloo Region suggests that 40% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the transportation sector.
What does this mean for university and college students, and others who are part of campus life? My vision would be for all campuses to be centred around healthy and active modes of transportation, with CarSharing as part of the mix for those situations where other modes of transportation can’t fit your needs. When you think about it, why can’t access to a CarShare vehicle be as common place to students as having a campus meal card? (Or for the really innovative, why can’t your meal card be your access card for the CarShare vehicle?) With the involvement of students, campus administration, student unions, and maybe even the guidance of parents, this reality is achievable.
If that future sounds exciting to you, then the good news is that in some places there are some of those steps that have already been achieved. But if I’m honest with myself there is still much more work to do. Based on my experience, here’s the top three barriers I have encountered to achieving this vision:
Believe it or not when Community CarShare first launched, the minimum age to join was 25 years old! Over the last 20 years and in dialogue with insurance companies, we’ve been able to reduce that age down to 18 years old. Recent openness on accepting out of jurisdiction driver’s licenses has also meant that international travellers and students can also make use of CarSharing. In many places these barriers still exist so it’s still important for CarSharing companies and students to continue to advocate on this topic.
Have you ever been to a campus and found yourself surrounded by a large parking lot full of parking? Free parking is a significant barrier to promoting alternatives, since there is no incentive to choose other modes, and no existing budget to encourage alternatives. Also, building, maintaining, lighting, and enforcing a parking lot is not free, even if the parking is. Ultimately the cost of free parking gets passed on to students in the form of higher tuition, something definitely worth considering.
Car ownership as a life step
Going to post secondary school is a rite of passage and all too often it can be assumed that acquiring a vehicle is part of this step. Have we ever asked ourselves why? In North America young drivers are delaying the age at which they first obtain their license, and choosing to define themselves by their vehicle as their parents did, but in other ways. Changes it seems, it on the way.
All that being said, the good news is that the Car Sharing sector has come a long way in terms of achieving it’s goal. I personally look forward to the opportunities that will come out this exciting sector in the coming years.
About the Author
Matthew Piggott is the Member Services Manager at Community CarShare, a non-profit CarSharing co-operative operating in Ontario.