June 8, 2018

The Case for Carsharing: The Numbers All Go to 11

Vancouver’s home-grown carsharing cooperative, Modo, issued a press release this past week with the results of a multi-city member survey that spoke to the overriding reasons for the move away from car ownership — cost.

Of the 3,500+ respondents, 42% said the cost savings is why they prefer to use the 2-way service, just edging out convenience (39%).

But what about carsharing’s other role, beyond getting us from A-to-B cheaply? As in actually removing cars off the road — that’s where it’s at, and we found that while it’s not high on the list of influencing factors for Modo members, it’s a reportable outcome.

Almost half of respondents (47%) disclosed that their carsharing membership allowed them either to get rid of a car, or avoid purchase in the first place. And of course, within that, the cost factor comes up again; 63% of the “car-shedders” did so because of cost.

But Modo’s head of PR Selena McLachlan made one other thing very clear in a follow-up convo to this release — the gain to society from carsharing is exponential when measured in environmental impact, and has the potential to drive population-level effects over the long term.

This is hardly appreciated, or even understood. But the information is out there, waiting to be considered alongside, or maybe in place of, the financials.

As shown in a 2016 study by University of Berkeley professor Susan Shaheen and co-author Elliott Martin — focused on car2go, and now well-known and much-cited in transportation circles — a single, well-utilized carshare vehicle removes as many as 11 personal vehicles from city streets.

Not just any city streets, either; Vancouver is one of the cities Shaheen and Martin studied. And building on this stream is the work of UBC graduate Dr. Michiko Namazu (now a research scientist at Uber). Her 2017 thesis, focused in part on resource management, specifically cites Vancouver as having the most carshare vehicles per capita than anywhere else in the world (39 per 10,000 people), includes a remarkable statistic: “80% of people who join Modo sold or donated their cars.”

No wonder she suggests, “Vancouver is one of the most advanced [carsharing] cities in the world, and can serve as a model for its implementation.”

Personal transportation sits just behind commercial goods movement and heavy industry as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia. A more significant, collective shift to carsharing could similarly have an exponential impact on GHG emissions.

Further, Metro Vancouver accounts for almost 60% of BC’s population, and with 3,000 carsharing vehicles, leads not just the province but comes in second in North America (behind New York City). So it still comes as a surprise that carsharing accounts for just one-tenth of 1 per cent of the total number of registered vehicles in the province.

What will it take to spread the word — that, beyond the solving the cost-crunch of motor vehicle ownership, carsharing could also be a wonder drug for what ails the environment?

What we do, if we need that extra push over the cliff, we turn it up to eleven. …These go to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel

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  1. Car share certainly reduces the number of cars owned by a certain factor but this would not be exponential. Ditto for environmental costs of producing a car. It would only reduce the number of car trips or the amount of ghg emissions if car share members reduced their number of car trips. I don’t see an exponential result here but it is probably linear. Making car share vehicles electric would have a significant environmental benefit.

    1. Doesn’t carshare make car trips easier, and therefore make them increase? If you no longer have to foot the full cost of buying, maintaining and insuring a vehicle but still have access to one, where is the deterrent to more trips?

      1. The beauty of car share is that it makes it easy to estimate the cost of one’s next trip. We have a Modo car-share membership but rarely use it since it is more convenient, more enjoyable and less expensive to take most trips by bike or occasionally by transit or bike/transit. It would be good to know what the reduction of car use is by car-share members. I suspect it is well below 50%

      2. That should read more than 50% reduction in car trips. For us, almost all previous car trips have been replaced by the occasional use of Modo.

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