What is carsharing ?
Carsharing, self-service cars… a variety of different terms describe this idea. The definition of the concept by Wikipedia is representative: «Carsharing is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour.
They are attractive to customers who make only occasional use of a vehicle, as well as others who would like occasional access to a vehicle of a different type than they use day-to-day. The organization renting the cars may be a commercial business or the users may be organized as a democratically-controlled company, public agency, cooperative, ad hoc grouping.».
It is a form of short-term rental which provides all the advantages of a vehicle without the disadvantages. The vehicles are parked at several “stations” throughout the city. They are available 24/24 and can be reserved online or by cell phone for short periods. The other major difference to formal car rental is that the price is all inclusive. The rates cover fuel, insurance and subscribers only pay what they use: per mile/km and or rental time.
Carsharing is not to be confused with car pooling, or ride sharing, which is sharing a vehicle with the car owner. Nor is it car rental since the idea of self-service is at the very heart of the system.
Reasons for the growing interest
The economic potential of carsharing can be measured by the extent of the phenomenon on all continents. In Europe Germany has more than 100,000 users and Switzerland around 90,000. In the United States there are over 300,000 registered users with the Zipcar service alone. Elsewhere in the world, in Japan and Australia carsharing companies have flourished. In France where carsharing is in its infancy, the idea is showing promise as there are already around 10,000 subscribers. This figure has almost doubled over the last two years.
Current trends predict a real future for carsharing. Car ownership is fraught with constraints: the initial cost of purchasing the vehicle, the cost of fuel, urban congestion, lack of parking spaces… On the other hand local authorities are showing an increasing determination to integrate the issues of transportation into an overall strategy of sustainable development. They are developing strategies and tools which envisage changing the “all car” model to one of multimodality. The car should be a mode of mobility complementary to other modes such as public transportation, cycling, and car rental. According to time, distance and other criteria users can choose from the most convenient transport option on offer.
Major players positioning themselves for the carsharing niche
The « success stories » of certain carsharing companies such as Mobility CarSharing in Switzerland or Zipcar in the United States are encouraging some traditional players in the transportation and automobile industries to position themselves in this sector. Seen as a complement to their core business carsharing is often the means to highlight certain synergies and therefore to propose mobility services with a real economic potential and low costs. The following companies are examples of relatively newcomers to the carsharing sector:
- Car rental company: Hertz with the service ConnectbyHertz in London and Paris
- Public transportation operator: Veolia Transport with Mobizen in Paris
- Carmaker: Daimler with Car2Go in Ulm
However, these very companies are beginning to understand that the offer of a carsharing service as a complement to their traditional activities is not sufficient to attract users in large numbers. Three current trends could enable the service’s industrialization of the service.
1-Integrate carsharing into the offer of local mobility services
Local partnerships with public transportation operators and / or local authorities have been formed to meet the mobility needs of users who have given up their personal car. Carsharing is being increasingly seen as one mode of a transport package in a given area. The advantages of a partnership are well illustrated by the case of Auto’trement in Strasbourg with rates which include a 10 to 15% reduction on the CTS (Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois) season ticket as well as reductions with traditional car rental companies (Budget, Ucar, Europ Car and Avis). In London, TfL (Transport for London) promotes carsharing through different ways like funds for car clubs, communication campaigns, and the possibility for members of the accredited Car Clubs to use their Oyster Card (contactless transport card) to access to the vehicles.
2-Deploying connectivity to simplify the service
The immediacy and simplicity of the system conditions the adhesion of the users. It is for this very reason that carsharing companies have rapidly integrated clients using cell phones or cards without requiring any prior contact to reserve or access the vehicle. Zipcar has even developed an application for the iPhone.
3-Diversify the target populations
For several years now carsharing companies have been diversifying their target population and offers are now targeting the business customer. This way companies can optimize the use of their fleets, especially during the week, and increase their customer base. The company CarBox Services has adopted this approach as their business model. They offer to manage the sharing of a dedicated fleet for the employees of a company and in certain cases provide other services such as maintenance of the fleet.
Is carsharing the ideal way to introduce the electric vehicle?
Local authorities and industrialists in search of a market for electric vehicles see carsharing experiments as a possible model for deployment.
- At long last the electric vehicle, its inherent autonomy constraints, will be used for the purpose it was designed for: short urban journeys, dedicated parking slots and charging points…
- Secondly GPS satellite navigation and other such devices have given the customer the freedom to organize their trip and decide at which of the nearby charging points it will be the most convenient to end his trip. Thus the company Coulomb Technologies has devised a solution based on the same smart telematic devices as some carsharing schemes. This allows them to authenticate the subscriber for a future recharging network, to know in real time the availability of a recharging point, to gather information on the energy consumption of the subscriber.
- Lastly the methods of financing and the implantation of carsharing companies involves local authorities and can prefigure the models of deployment of electric vehicles: outsourcing a public service, deployment and funding of the recharging infrastructure, provision of parking spaces…
The deployment of the future Autolib’ system by a mixed syndicate, involving different local authorities, through a contract for delegation of public utility is an example of a model which could enable the deployment of self-service electric vehicles in cities.
Read also in this section:
- Stockholm, a green city
- The contribution of technology to limit traffic jams
- Singapore’s congestion pricing system
- Multimodal tools
- IBM enabling smart transportation systems
- A new Award for “European Green Capitals”
- “Organizational” solutions against traffic jams and gridlock