The idea of sharing a car instead of owning it yourself may be a new concept to you. But the history of car sharing goes back a surprisingly long way! Maybe not as far back as the horse and cart, but it’s still been around a while.

This post takes you from go to woe (then back to the pod) with the history of car sharing. We describe the wrong turns (pun intended) and the exciting future of car sharing, and shared transport!

Young man leaning against the hood of a GoGet Car share Corolla on a hip urban street - GoGet is the most significant player in the history of car sharing in Australia

GoGet Carshare was Australia’s first, and is Australia’s largest car sharing network.

What is car share? (You need this first)

Put simply, car sharing is about having access to cars, rather than owning them. Members of car share networks like GoGet pay fairly modest membership and usage fees for access to a fleet of cars, vans, and convertibles across their city.

So is car share like car rental or car hire? Not really. Because members access cars with a smart card, you don’t need to travel to a central location to pick up a vehicle. They’re parked on the street or in car parks, normally in dedicated bays, right near where members live or work.

Car share is normally used instead of owning a car, or to replace a second car. As a result, car share also has some big environmental impacts, helping to reduce car ownership.

If you drive less than 10,000km each year, you could probably save money with car share. You also avoid the hassles of maintaining a car, with access to a huge range of vehicles near you instead.

The history of car sharing

The earliest car sharing scheme dates back to 1946 Switzerland! A small car share arrangement popped up from a Zurich based housing cooperative. It was a very informal setup, and didn’t last long.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw attempts to set up a more professional service, but none of the companies were able to keep things moving for more than a few years.

Through the 1980’s and 1990’s, car sharing became slightly more sophisticated, but the only successful operators were non-profits. No one had yet been able to build a sustainable, profitable car sharing network. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late late 1990’s that car sharing gained that level of maturity.

But some folks were working on sharing other modes of transport…

Sharing bikes, boats, and aeroplanes (actually, just bikes)

While car sharing was still very niche, shared transport was picking up speed elsewhere – on bikes!

In 1965, a scheme called White Bikes started in Amsterdam (unsurprising, we know). With White Bikes, riders would leave the bike unlocked anywhere for another rider to use after them once they were done. It was actually the work of a young anarchist group that wanted to reduce car dependency, and the bikes developed a real cult following.

Among other things they spawned a song by the English punk band, Tomorrow.

The White Bikes also featured in the famous 1969 bed-in protest of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Amersterdam. But theft was a major issue for White Bikes, and police officers that didn’t like their anarchistic vibe were known to pull the bikes off the street.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with on of the earliest share bikes, the white bicycles, during their famous bed in protest in Amsterdam in March 1969 - John and Yoko area a surprising part of the history of car sharing

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were presented with a White Bike during their 1969 Amsterdam bed-in protest for peace

Copenhagen was next to give bike share a crack (some stereotypes are real). A coin operated bike share network was set up in the 1990’s. But again, theft was an issue.

In 1996, technology came to the aid of the sharing economy. Bikeabout was a bike share network at the UK’s Portsmouth University. It used a key-card system, allowing the company to track users and bikes, removing the theft problem.

The next 20 years saw a rapid increase in the take up of bike sharing schemes, especially with massive development in GPS and smartphone technology. For more on this, here’s a beautifully designed site about the history of bike share.

You should also listen to the BBC Witness podcast about the history of Bike Share. They speak to the inventor of the White Bikes, and it’s a great story!

A lineup of blue docked share bikes from the Philidelphia IndeGo bike share provider - bike share was an early part of the history of car sharing, by proving that shared transport can work

Car Share in the technology age

Just like bike share, car share benefited massively from technology. With GPS, and by using smart cards instead of keys to open doors, car share operators were able to expand their member base dramatically.

Let’s take Montreal based Communauto. The Canadian company started as a communal group of car sharers in 1994, but it wasn’t until the 2000’s that things really took off. Now, they have over 1,000 cars in Montreal and Paris, as well as a one way car sharing service in Montreal.

A silver communato zero emission car share car parked on the size of a street - communato was one of the earliest networks in the recent history of car sharing

A Communato zero emission car share car. As a kind of social enterprise, car share companies have been early adopters of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Around the same time, Zipcar and Flexcar started in the USA (both now owned by Avis car rental), and City Car Club started in the UK (now owned by Enterprise car rental). Finally, there was a genuine model for financially sustainable car sharing networks.

A white Zipcar car Share car - Zipcar was an early player in the history of car sharing - the Boston based car sharing network now has over a million members

Zipcar car share are one of the largest car sharing companies in the world.

Now, car sharing has started picking up across Asia, with a huge car share boom expected. This is in large part due to the environmental benefits of car share (which are massive, btw).

Where does GoGet Car Share fit in?

GoGet came to the car share party early, becoming Australia’s first car share network in 2003. When Nic Lowe and Bruce Jeffreys met in a Newtown cafe and both though traffic was getting out of control, they started Newtown Car Share. 

Like Communauto, Newtown Car Share started as a grass roots collective. Nic and Bruce set up a stall at Newtown festival and found a dozen or so early adopters keen to help the environment and save some money. After expanding to Melbourne a year later, the group rebranded as GoGet Carshare.

Now, GoGet is the largest car share network in Australia (it always has been) with around 100,000 members and over 3,000 vehicles in 5 cities.

If you’re interested in Australian car sharing, you can find your nearest GoGet car, or check out our pricing.

What’s the future of car sharing?

This might be worth an article of its own soon (note to self). Put simply, the future is very bright for car sharing, right across the world.

Car Sharing is one part of a larger concept, shared mobility. That’s exactly what it says on the box – sharing our means of transport, rather than owning it privately.

Shared mobility includes walking and cycling (sharing the footpath), public transport (sharing the bus), as well as sharing cars. That includes car share services like GoGet, and ride share services like Uber and Lyft.

We hear a lot about a future filled with electric and autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. But self-driving, electric vehicles will be expensive. For self-driving cars to be most useful, they’ll be making trips continuously, moving other people while we’re at work, at play, or asleep.

That means they’ll need to be shared. So the history of car sharing is just beginning.

A lineup of GoGet cars in a city building car park - GoGet cars are found in car parks in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, and help reduce the competition for parking in the city

Car Share networks like GoGet continue to innovate, to ensure the history of car sharing continues into the future

Frequently Asked Questions

As Australia’s biggest car share network, we get asked these questions quite often. So here are some answers.

Car sharing? Or Carsharing? Or Car Share?

No one like semantics (if they say so they’re lying), but this is quick to clear up. The Carshare industry doesn’t use a space in between car and share (ie they use Carshare or Carsharing). Generally that’s how governments and transport experts spell it.

But most people refer to car sharing with a space (Car Share or Car Sharing). Our blog isn’t really written for academics, so we use car share here.

Is car sharing a new thing?

No way! The history of car sharing goes back to the middle of the twentieth century. However, it’s only been since the 1990’s that technology has helped car sharing scale beyond small cooperatives.

Is car sharing the same as car rental?

No, there’s a key difference between car share and car rental. While car rental is typically one-off and only by the day, car share lets members use cars often and for very short periods, like an hour.

Because it’s a membership based service car sharing tends to be cheaper than car hire. Shorter trips mean you only pay for what you use. Another difference is where the cars are located. While car rental offices make you come to them, car sharing companies have cars all over the city, often on streets near you. Check out where GoGet cars are in Australia for an idea of how that works.

Does car share only have small cars?

No, car share networks often have a whole range of cars. At GoGet, we offer members hatchbacks, vans, SUVs, and convertibles. Some overseas car sharing networks have focused on smaller cars exclusively. But in order to be more useful to more people more of the time, most networks offer a range of cars like GoGet does.

Is car share worth it?

That will depend on you – but there are millions of people around the world that think it is! Owning your own car can be really expensive, but car share makes it an optional cost. At GoGet, we find that people that drive less than 10,000km each year can normally save money with us.

You should join a car sharing network and see how it works for you! In Australia, the largest and most established network is GoGet – give us a go and see what you think!

Join GoGet today!

A lineup of GoGet cars in the Sydney CBD - goget has a range of vehicles for hire like vans, suvs, and hatchbacks


About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.