Smart Car2Go; photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Click image to enlarge
By Greg Wilson
A confluence of factors – the economic recession, increased traffic congestion and vehicle pollution in major cities, and increasingly strict vehicle emissions standards – is forcing an increasing number of commuters to find alternatives to personal vehicle ownership, and among those alternatives, car sharing is a “rising star”, says David Zhao, Research Analyst, Frost & Sullivan Automotive Practice. “Car sharing provides its members with the benefits of private cars without the costs and responsibilities of ownership.” Between 2007 and 2009, membership in car sharing organizations in North America rose by 117 per cent, he notes.
Car sharing, which got its start in Switzerland in 1987, consists of short-term rentals of corporate or co-op owned vehicles where users pick up and drop off any one of a fleet of vehicles at selected locations within a prescribed geographic area, usually a major city. Users pay an hourly or daily rate, and sometimes a fee per kilometre, which covers all gasoline, insurance, maintenance, and parking costs.
Smart Car2Go in Austin, Texas; photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Click image to enlarge
In Canada, there are currently 16 co-op car sharing networks in seven provinces, plus corporate-owned Zipcar. Zipcar, with operations in Toronto and Vancouver, charges an initial application fee of $25, an annual fee of $65, and hourly usage rates of $6 to $10 an hour or daily rates from $67 to $74 a day. That includes gas, insurance and 200 free kilometres per day. Cars can be picked up from dedicated Zipcar parking spots around the city. To book a car, Zipcar members just reserve a car online or by phone, walk to the car and hold their Zipcard up to a card reader in the car to unlock the doors. The can then drive away and return the car to the same reserved spot when they’re finished.
Smart Car2Go edition – a new control unit with touchscreen – screen dialogue: input of the PIN at the beginning of the rental process; photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Click image to enlarge
Co-op car sharing networks are similar, but usually charge an annual membership fee plus hourly/daily rates in combination with rates per km. The Cooperative Auto Network, for example, a non-profit car sharing program in Vancouver charges members a one-time lifetime membership fee of $500, a $20 registration fee, a $2 administration for the first three bookings of the month, $3 an hour or $36 a day, plus 40 cents a kilometre for the first 35 km, 25 cents per km up to 150 km, and 15 cents a km thereafter. Cars are booked by phone or online, picked up and dropped off the car at the same location.
How does the cost of car sharing compare to the cost of owning your own car? According to the CAA, the typical cost of a vehicle driven in Greater Vancouver is approximately $500 per month – $200 per month to finance and/or purchase, $100 per month to insure, $100 for gas, and an average of $100 to maintain. And that’s without considering depreciation and parking. The monthly cost for members of the Cooperative Auto Network works out to an average of $117 per month.
Frost & Sullivan’s research shows that an average car owner who drives 12,000 miles (19,312 km) a year at an average driving speed of 30 mph (48 km/h) can save US$1,834 by shifting to a car-sharing service. Commuters who drive less than 12,000 miles can save even more.
Frost & Sullivan also estimates that each shared vehicle replaced an average of 15 personally owned vehicles in 2009 and car-sharing members drove 31 per cent less than when they drove a personal vehicle. From an environmental standpoint, a Quebec study found that car sharing in that province is responsible for a reduction of 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year.
Yet, car sharing programs aren’t perfect. Cars have to be picked up and dropped of at a pre-agreed time at locations that may be some distance from the user’s initial starting point and their final destination – and the cars have to be returned to the same location the driver started from, meaning the car could be sitting idle during the day while the user is in a meeting or having lunch. Car share rates are charged by the hour, so someone who uses a car for only half an hour pays for the full hour. And for the most part, these cars are used by only one member rather than shared by multiple members travelling the same route.