Cities: Drive less, live better

Alan Woodland Executive Director CarSharing Association

Alan Woodland Executive Director CarSharing Association

Carsharing has changed the way people view their relationship with the automobile. The combination of public transit, cycling, walking and other forms of shared-use mobility are causing many to consider the question “What do I really need a car for?”

Choice, delivered by technology, is driving changes in urban mobility. By offering more choices, consumers, businesses and government can rationalize transportation expenses and reduce total ‘vehicle miles travelled’ (VMT). Reduced traffic congestion and reduced demand for scarce parking is beneficial for cities and saves untold hours of waiting and delays. At scale, shared-use mobility systems will influence infrastructure investments and save governments billions of dollars.

What do I really need a car for?

The freedom to move anytime and anywhere promised by the private automobile was a compelling offer in the 20th century, but society’s fascination with car ownership has changed. Now, ownership of computers and phones are more important for social connection than owning a car.1 Cars are not as relevant as a status symbol, and getting a driver license is no longer a ‘rite of passage’ in the way it once was.2iStock_000051929726_Medium

Few choose to drive for leisure in cities. Automobile associations estimate expenses of $9,000 annually for fuel, parking, insurance, maintenance, repairs and depreciation to own and operate a reliable private car.3

Urban dwellers are accustomed to having top quality and choice in services consumed. Mobile devices present users with travel information and choices between safe reliable, efficient mobility options. With a phone, people can choose different vehicles when transporting cargo and passengers and make connections with rental cars, taxi services, trains and buses as needed.

Smart Cities and New Mobility

City planners aim to make city streets safer for people by promoting walking, cycling and public transit systems as healthy alternatives to automobile use. Reduced emissions and the use of energy-efficient technologies align with government’s climate action and sustainability objectives.

Policies that limit vehicle traffic and encourage shared multi-modal alternatives have created cleaner, healthier, safer places for city residents to live in. When private cars are discouraged, public transit becomes the backbone of urban mobility with carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing and car-and-driver services available for certain journeys that require it.

Shared fleets, behaviour and benefits

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A large fleet of privately-owned vehicles that spends more time parking than driving is less efficient than a smaller number of high utilisation shared vehicles driving the same number of miles and providing the same level of mobility for people. The amount of urban real estate dedicated to parking and storage of low-utilisation vehicles today is enormous. Large scale adoption of shared cars would reduce aggregate demand for parking in urban areas and create opportunities to redevelop parking into housing, commercial space and community amenities that are more valuable to residents and visitors.

When individuals are not personally invested in a private car, the economics of mobility decisions is changed. With private car ownership, the costs of financing, insuring and servicing are mainly fixed and the marginal cost of a trip is only fuel and parking. With an “access instead of ownership” model, the to the user’s marginal cost is the full cost of the trip. When choosing from a portfolio of mobility options, people consider the cost, convenience (and necessity) of every journey differently that those committed to car ownership.

The result is carsharing members drive less often, use other modes of transportation more, plan trips more, and use a carsharing vehicle only when necessary. Using carsharing and public transit is almost always coupled with a short walk or bike ride to access the service. Transportation routines that include regular walking/cycling activity helps maintain respiratory and circulatory health and supports cardio-vascular fitness as people age. Research shows people are happier and healthier when they spend less time driving a car in urban environments4.

Less investment required by government for infrastructure

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Forecasted urban population growth combined with planned replacements of transportation infrastructure is a major investment and financing challenge for the public sector. If public transit and shared-use mobility reduces consumer demand for car-based road networks, the level of investment needed to widen traffic arteries, construct new highways and bridges in the future is reduced. Additional “savings” can be realised as integrated, smart deployment and logistics methodologies are developed to optimise the use of current infrastructure.

Shared-use mobility offers people more choice about how to move around in the city with less public investment required to deliver the service. Technology allows travelers to plan a multi-modal journey more easily than ever before. Cities, focused on social and economic sustainability, are re-thinking parking and access for private cars and encouraging public transit, active transportation and carsharing modes of travel. The next generation sees value in having reliable choices for different kinds of trips, the ability to plan trips at a moment’s notice, and freedom from financial commitments that comes with car ownership.

Alan Woodland
Executive Director
CarSharing Association

1. Zipcar study
2. Katherine Davidson, automotive analyst at Schroders: http://www.schroders.com/tp/thelongview?id=a0j5000000ANPx2AAH
3. AAA summary
4. Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/

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