Car Sharing: A City Solution

In the past decade, car sharing has become a trendy alternative for carless city-dwellers in America. However, European countries have been taking advantage of car sharing for over 50 years. One program began in Switzerland in 1948 to provide cars for apartment renters that could not afford their own vehicles, and another enterprise started in Europe in the 1970s as a reaction to the oil crisis. [1]

So why is America just now catching on? The main reason is that Americans are driving more now than ever before. Almost every family has multiple vehicles – one for mom, one for dad, and one for each of the kids. This leads to jammed roadways and packed parking garages and lots. As a result, parking costs have skyrocketed in cities where personal parking is not readily accessible. For example, in Austin’s West Campus neighborhood, a parking spot at an apartment often costs up to $1200 per year. Essentially, kids are paying $1200 a year to not use their cars, and hundreds more on gas and insurance and maintenance for when they are using them.

 

Relay Rides Logo
Relay Rides Logo [2]
GetAround Logo [3]

Getaround Logo [3]

Car sharing is a feasible, economic, and cheap solution to the transportation problems in cities. It can be either low-tech, or high-tech. The low-tech option allows individuals to subscribe to a service, such as RelayRides [2] or Getaround [3], through which they can rent out their personal car and are provided insurance and billing assistance. Members of the service, which go through a background check, can then pick up and drive the car, which are often conveniently located in neighborhoods instead of retail and business districts. However, the owners are at a disadvantage because they are responsible for the upkeep of their vehicle.

 

zipcar

ZipCar [4]

The high-tech option is more popular and visible to consumers because companies, like Zipcar and Car2Go, maintain their own branded fleet of vehicles. The companies provide driver insurance, monthly billing services, and vehicle maintenance. These companies also make accessing the car convenient, since they pay to have designated parking spots located in college campuses and on busy city streets.

 

Car2Go

Car2Go [5]

The most complicated problem with car sharing is insurance. Because car sharing has evolved so quickly, policy is having a hard time keeping up. West coast states California, Oregon, and Washington recently passed laws to protect personal vehicle owners while still allowing renters to be covered. [1] Other cities and states in which car sharing is a feasible solution for transit crowding must be willing to take regulatory action to minimize the risk of expensive insurance claims and court cases brought on by accidents and damage.

Despite the insurance policy issue, car sharing is a great solution for many cities’ transportation problems – if their citizens are willing to forego the luxury and status symbol that comes with owning your own car. Increased car sharing would mean fewer cars on the road and therefore faster transportation, less gas consumption, and decreased emissions. Additionally, members would be spending much less money on car maintenance, fuel, and insurance. A win-win for the environment and consumers.

 

1 Garthwaite, Josie. “Car Sharing Widens the Lanes of Access for City Drivers.” National Geographic Society, 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/11/121126-peer-to-peer-car-sharing/&gt;.

2“How It Works.” Relay Rides. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <https://relayrides.com/&gt;.

3“Getaround Support.” Getaround. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <http://support.getaround.com/&gt;.

4“Zipcar Car Sharing Replaces Car Rental & Ownership.” Zipcar. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <http://www.zipcar.com/&gt;.

5“Austin.” Car2Go. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <https://www.car2go.com/en/austin/&gt;.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Car Sharing: A City Solution

  1. Though I personally find the concept of car-sharing a fantastic solution to many urbanization problems, I think a major obstacle to overcome is the American relationship with cars. Cars have been seen as enablers of freedom for generations, allowing their owners to just get up and go on a whim. Cars are also seen as a status symbol for many Americans. The auto industry and its advertising teams have done a fantastic job of promoting a consumer culture that drives individuals to one-up their friends and neighbors. This love affair with cars makes it tough for many Americans to accept the idea of giving up their own personal vehicle. As you mentioned, improved parking is a big selling point for car-share services. I think reduced fare parking could also drive people to make a lifestyle switch to using just a car-share service. Other benefits, like special access lanes or free toll passes, could help cut down the overall number of cars on the road and change the car-loving culture that’s so deeply rooted in American culture.

  2. bradleonhardt

    I find the conversation on car sharing quite interesting, and I also think that the impact of population density and urban design are underrated in the conversation. To me, it makes sense to get away from exclusively one-size-fits-all solution to the reduction of cars on the road. For example, I would push for car sharing for individuals in less dense urban areas, car sharing services like Zipcar/Car2Go in dense urban pockets, and public transportation in dense cities and planned dense pockets.

    I grew up living in a lower-density area (suburban Orlando, FL), and daily life, from work to entertainment, was impossible without a car. No bus or public transit existed, free parking was everywhere, and I bought my own car by the time I was 17; I can see individual car sharing making sense there. In contrast, I spent a couple of years living in Cambridge, MA, across the river from downtown Boston, and the difference was night and day-costs were prohibitive to park ($1192 for a year on my former campus at MIT), there were rarely available parking spaces at destination, there were 5 rapid transit lines/12 commuter rail lines (all the way to the Rhode Island coast and the New Hampshire border)/183 total bus routes. I actually sold my car and relied on public transportation and the occasional Zipcar/Car2Go type service. Austin is somewhere between the two-campus and downtown are dense, but overall the density is low (as shown by 1 commuter rail route and 76 standard bus routes) and it would be hard to go without a car option for travel beyond the core of the city.

    I think that population density numbers can be used to back these observations, and point to where car sharing can be very beneficial. My hometown (Clermont, FL) has a population density of 2108 people per square mile; Austin, TX has a density of 2653 people per square mile (according to a secondhand site, West Campus tracts 6.03 and 6.04 were both above 25,000 people per square mile, but were just over half a square mile total in area); Cambridge, MA had a density of 16,470 people per square mile (and Boston proper was at 12,793). To me, all of this points to an opportunity in policy-utilizing car sharing as a part of public policy in dense pockets like west campus, enabling the elimination of personal vehicles even where the city as a whole doesn’t support a diverse public transportation network. After all, I think that it is giving up flexibility,rather than a love affair with cars, that is the main obstacle to changing the habits of urban dwellers and embracing a less car-centric viewpoint.

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