Car sharing gains traction in the U.S.
By Chrissy Mancini Nichols
Apr 3, 2012
This post first appeared at metroplanning.org
Did You Know? In the U.S., nearly 20 percent of car-sharing trips are accessed by transit.
Car sharing is an economical way for drivers to access wheels only when they need them. It’s no wonder U.S. car-sharing memberships grew by 117 percent between 2007 and 2009: Car sharing is a convenient transportation option that saves families, businesses and taxpayers money, reduces congestion and improves the environment, and increases transit use, biking and walking.
Members of car-sharing programs typically reserve their preferred type of vehicle and the number of hours they will need to use it online, walk to the nearest car-sharing lot, open the door of their reserved vehicle with their electronic membership card, and drive away. Does the car need gas? No problem. Most car-sharing programs provide a pre-paid gas card located in the glove box. Get in a fender bender? Not an issue – the car is insured.
The average cost for regular users of car-sharing programs is about $60 a month. Compare that with the average cost of owning a car, which has climbed to $9,000 a year, and it’s clear car sharing tremendously reduces household transportation costs. Some 20 percent of car sharers eventually give up their personal vehicles and many more forgo purchasing a new one. Car sharing also provides numerous community development benefits: As people give up their cars, traffic congestion decreases and less land is needed for parking, freeing up space for development. Because vehicles provided by car-sharing programs are typically more fuel efficient than the average privately owned automobile – the majority are hybrids, sedans and compact cars – these programs provide substantial environmental benefits and reduce fuel consumption. In Chicago, for example, two car-sharing programs offer members the option of electric vehicles: I-GO’s fleet will soon include 36 all-electric vehicles, and in March 2012 Zipcar launched its pilot electric vehicle program in Chicago. It expects to have 25 electric vehicles in its fleet this year.
Drivers who own their own cars tend to pay a large upfront cost to purchase the vehicle and occasional, recurring costs for financed payments, repairs, insurance, and fuel; however, they do not necessarily consider those costs on a per-trip basis. Car-sharing programs reduce overall driving because drivers pay a distinct cost each time they drive the car. This provides an incentive for members to choose the most cost-efficient form of transportation, whether it’s transit, biking, walking or driving. Consequently, car sharing has been proven to increase the use of other modes of transportation. What’s more, nearly 20 percent of car-sharing trips are accessed by transit. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has 30 car-sharing vehicles at 20 different CTA stations and has partnered with the I-GO car sharing program to create the Chicago Card Plus/I-GO Card, the nation’s first joint smart card between a public transit agency and car-sharing service. It enables card holders to access CTA trains and buses, Pace buses, and every car in I-GO’s metro-wide fleet, most of which are near or adjacent to CTA routes or rail stations.
Local governments have embraced car sharing as a way to reduce fleet costs and save money. In 2004, Philadelphia was the first city to implement such a program and since then has eliminated 330 municipal vehicles, saving $1.8 million a year. In New York City, 300 Dept. of Transportation employees share 25 Zipcars, which will save $500,000 over four years. Washington, D.C., embarked on an innovative internal car-sharing program with Zipcar, replacing 360 vehicles with 58 to save $6.6 million over five years.
Cities in congested urban areas are using car-sharing programs to encourage auto owners to give up their cars. In 2010, Hoboken, NJ, implemented the Corner Cars program, a partnership with Hertz car share that provides cars parked every few blocks in bright green parking spots. Members pay an hourly fee to drive the cars, and Hertz pays the city about $50,000 for the rights to run the program. In just two years, 2,000 members have signed up and 99 residents have given up their parking permits.
The economic downturn, high gas prices, and environmental concerns make car sharing an attractive transportation option for drivers. Embracing car sharing is a great way for cities to take cars off the road, reduce congestion, save money, and encourage drivers to make more sustainable transportation choices.