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. Today there are more than one thousand cities in the world where people can carshare.
Despite its evident English language origins, the term carsharing (earlier often written as two separate words, and still today occasionally hyphenated) is now the widely accepted international term. Synonyms include autodelen in Dutch, autopartage in French, bildeling in Danish, and bilpool in Swedish. In the United Kingdom the term "car clubs" is used, while "car sharing" is also used to refer to ride sharing.
"Carpooling" or "ride-sharing" refers to the shared use of a car for a specific journey, in particular for commuting to work, often by people who each have a car but travel together to save costs. However, there is a slight terminological hitch in the UK where the term car sharing (two words in this usage) is used for what in the U.S. is called "ride sharing". Carsharing in the sense discussed in this article is a recent development in Britain, and while such plans are still known more known as car clubs (a term which, in the U.S., refers strictly to a club of car hobbyists) the international term carsharing is gradually gaining currency there as well.
As is often the case with innovations that spring up more or less spontaneously in different parts of the world, operations are organized in many different ways in different places, according to the objectives of the organizers and users. A small informal start-up may have only one shared car, and only a handful of sharers. Larger services tend to focus on urban areas where there are many potential customers.
Carsharing differs from traditional car rentals in the following ways:
- Carsharing is not limited by office hours
- Reservation, pickup, and return is all self-service
- Vehicles can be rented by the hour, as well as by the day
- Users are members and have been pre-approved to drive (background driving checks have been performed and a payment mechanism has been established)
- Vehicle locations are distributed throughout the service area, and often located for access by public transport.
- Insurance and fuel costs are included in the rates.
- Vehicles are not serviced (cleaned, petrol filled up) after each use
Some carshare operations (CSOs) cooperate with local car rental firms to offer best value to their customers (in particular in situations where classic rental may be the cheaper option.)
Urban car sharing is often promoted as an alternative to owning a car where public transit, walking, and cycling can be used most of the time and a car is only necessary for out-of-town trips, moving large items, or special occasions. It can also be an alternative to owning multiple cars for households with more than one driver. A long-term study of City CarShare members by Robert Cervero, Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 30 percent of households that joined sold a car; others delayed purchasing one. Transit use, bicycling, and walking also increased among members.
Car sharing is generally not cost-effective for commuting to a full-time job on a regular basis. Most carsharing advocates, operators and cooperating public agencies believe that those who do not drive daily or who drive less than 10,000 kilometers (about 6,200 statute miles) annually may find carsharing to be more cost-effective than car ownership. But variations of 50% on this figure are reported by operators and others depending on local context. If occasional use of a shared vehicle costs significantly less than car ownership, this makes automobile use more accessible to low-income households.
Car sharing can also help reduce congestion and pollution. Replacing private automobiles with shared ones directly reduces demand for parking spaces. The fact that only a certain number of cars can be in use at any one time may reduce traffic congestion at peak times. Even more important for congestion, the strong metering of costs provides a cost incentive to drive less. With owned automobiles many expenses are sunk costs and thus independent of how much the car is driven (such as original purchase, insurance, registration and some maintenance).
Successful carsharing development has tended to be associated mainly with densely populated areas such as city centers and more recently university and other campuses. There are some programs (mostly in Europe) for providing services in lower density and rural areas.||}} Low-density areas are considered more difficult to serve with car sharing because of the lack of alternative modes of transportation and the potentially larger distance that users must travel to reach the cars.
How it worksEdit
The technology of CSOs varies enormously, from simple manual systems using key boxes and log books to increasingly complex computer-based systems with supporting software packages that handle a growing array of back office functions. The simplest CSOs have only one or two pick-up points, but more advanced systems have a decentralized network of parking locations (“pods”) stationed in different areas and located for access by public transport.
While differing markedly in their objectives, size, business models, levels of ambition, technology and target markets, these programs do share many features. The more established operations usually require a check of past driving records and a monthly or annual fee in order to become a member. The vehicle is reserved in advance, usually over the Internet or telephone (and increasingly by mobile phones, including by SMS). Most companies charge an hourly fee for the time that the car is in use, plus a fee per mile/km driven. Some CSOs offer a discounted all-day rate for their cars. If a vehicle is not returned at the scheduled time, a high penalty is charged, since it may interfere with other drivers' reservations. Members are responsible for leaving the vehicles on time, in the agreed parking area, clean and in good condition for the next user.
The car sharing company is generally responsible for the long-term maintenance of the vehicles.
The first reference to carsharing in print identifies the Selbstfahrergenossenschaft carshare program in a housing cooperative that got underway in Zürich in 1948, but there was no known formal development of the concept in the next few years. By the 1960s as innovators, industrialists, cities, and public authorities studied the possibility of high-technology transportation—mainly computer-based small vehicle systems (almost all of them on separate guideways)—it was possible to spot some early precursors to present-day service ideas and control technologies.
The early 1970s saw the first whole-system carshare projects. The ProcoTip system in France lasted only about two years. A much more ambitious project called the Witkar was launched in Amsterdam by the founders of the 1968 white bicycles project. A sophisticated project based on small electric vehicles, electronic controls for reservations and return, and plans for a large number of stations covering the entire city, the project endured into the mid-1980s before finally being abandoned.
The 1980s and first half of the 1990s was a "coming of age" period for carsharing, with continued slow growth, mainly of smaller non-profit systems, many in Switzerland and Germany, but also on a smaller scale in Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States. The real watershed in the development of the sector came in the 1990s with such larger and more structured projects as StattAuto in Germany, the two precursors of Mobility CarSharing in Switzerland, Bilkollektivet in Norway and Greenwheels in the Netherlands. Follow up developments include CommunAuto, then Co-operative Auto Network and later AutoShare in Canada, Flexcar Portland now Zipcar in Portland, Oregon, Zipcar in Boston and WhizzGo in England Nationwide and CityCarClub in England and Scotland. Goget Carshare was first to start in Australia in June 2003, followed by Smartdrivers.com.au in mid 2007. CarSharing was introduced to Ireland as GoCar and Halifax, Nova Scotia as CarShareHFX in late 2008.
This 1990s wave of innovation continued into the present decade, with carshare developments advancing at different speeds in different countries, but with a generally accelerating pace when taken in sum. The state of the art in carsharing in 2006 is increasingly competitive, increasingly well financed, and increasingly high tech. Smaller and simpler systems continue to grow in number and in some cases to prosper, but the emerging competition is in mid- and large-size cities. Whether the future belongs to non-profits or profit-making firms is hotly debated, with head-to-head competition in a growing list of cities, not only in the United States, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but also in London in the United Kingdom where three main operators go head to head as well as Hamburg, Germany. At the same time, discussions and competition are increasing in European cities, where the winning model is still far from decided.
Adapting Car Sharing vehicles to persons with physical disabilities presents special challenges not faced by traditional car rental. With car sharing no mechanic is present to install or adjust adaptive equipment, and that equipment is left unattended after each use. In 2008 City CarShare introduced the first wheelchair carrying car share vehicle, the Access Mobile, specifically designed as a fleet vehicle shared with, not segregated from, non-wheelchair users.
Car sharing operators are increasingly opting to brand parts of their fleets with third-party advertising in order to increase revenue and improve competitiveness. Transit media, as this out-of-home advertising medium is referred to, is a strategy currently (or soon to be) employed by larger car sharing operators such, Canada's Autoshare and the UK's City Car Club, as well as smaller operators such as Australia's Charter Drive Car Share.
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