Automobile General Paris

Is Car Sharing Good for Cities?

» Paris offers up Autolib’, intent on duplicating the success of the Velib’ bike program. But is car sharing counter-productive?

In the United States, cars offered by companies like Zipcar have become a common sight in city centers and around university campuses. For people without access to an automobile, these shared vehicles can provide valuable extra mobility, especially for those who are less confident on bike or for people who need to get places not easily accessed by mass transit.

A growing conflict in Paris over the installation of a new sharing system, however, raises some important questions. Is car sharing necessary or even a good idea for dense cities where public transit is ubiquitous and where most goods can be bought within walking distance? What are the best modes for service implementation?

According to Zipcar, each shared vehicle takes fifteen to twenty personal vehicles off the road. This is made possible because of Zipcar’s low rates, starting at $8 hourly and $77 daily, along with a $50 annual subscription charge, collectively small enough to convince people to abandon their cars or to avoid buying them at all. The end result, at least theoretically: fewer cars on the road, more efficient use of each automobile, and fewer parking spaces needed. It has proven a cheaper alternative to taxis and car rentals and has been quickly adopted.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people using car sharing programs once weren’t using any cars at all, meaning that the easy access to vehicle actually means an increase in overall car use. Zipcar’s campaign earlier this year to convince New York City pedestrians that they could be getting around more quickly in an automobile suggests that the service’s best market is among people who are currently walking, biking, or taking transit to get to work. Should cities be encouraging car-share programs if the end result is to convince people who don’t use automobiles today to use them in the future?

On the other hand, it is true that car sharing vastly expands the mobility of people without cars, especially at nighttime, when congestion is less of a problem and when transit is less reliable. It allows carless urbanites to buy products at places like Ikea, often situated in places difficult to reach by transit. It opens up the idea of being car-free to college students and residents of small towns.

Just as Paris took bike sharing to the extreme with Velib’, it wants to take car sharing to the next level with Autolib’. With 1,000 stations located on the street or in underground parking garages in the city and in 30 surrounding communes, the service would offer 3,000 cars available throughout the day by 2011. Every vehicle would be electric so as to reduce pollution levels. At the cost of four to five euros each half hour, with a 15-20 euro subscription fee, the service would be more expensive than its North American cousin.

The goal? Liberating 20,000 parking spaces in the city and dramatically reducing the number of inhabitants who own private vehicles.

Unlike most existing programs like Zipcar, Autolib’ would let customers pick up cars and return them in different locations, just as Velib’ allows with bikes. This difference spins the concept of car sharing, making it imaginable for people to drive to work on a daily basis using the vehicles — not true with Zipcar, which forces you to return the car to where you picked it up, and within a short period of time, unless you want to pay a large fee.

Principally because of this difference, the French Green Party has come out strongly against what is a project of the Socialist Party, despite the fact that the two are politically in control of both the region and city in a coalition. According to the Greens, the 4 million euros it would cost to get the system up an running could be better used — especially since the environmental benefits of the project are questionable. They claim that while they are in favor of more traditional forms of car sharing, Autolib’ wouldn’t work efficiently because it would encourage more frequent use of motorized vehicles by people who currently take the subway or ride bikes. Instead of encouraging longer-distance trips, as does Zipcar, Autolib’ would provide inhabitants the ease of making short hops just about anywhere, minimizing the benefits of bike or train travel.

The fact that, according to a study supporting the project, more than 50% of the people interested in subscribing to Autolib’ currently don’t have a car suggests both that public transit has failed to fulfill every transit market and that car use may actually increase as a result of the system’s implementation. Autolib’ might be one solution — but further expanding transit offerings is also a possibility.

This argument rings true for Paris, where literally everyone in the city is within 500 meters of a Metro station and where 20,000 bikes are offered at the measly price of a 29-euro annual subscription. If you want to implement car sharing without stimulating more driving, it should prioritize longer-distance travel and infrequent trips; frequent trips should be covered by public transport and short hauls in the car should be taken in taxis.

In the U.S., car sharing might also have the negative effect of increasing car use in cities like New York and San Francisco, each of which have heavily transit-dependent populations that would likely be switching into automobiles, not out of them. It might make more sense to focus car sharing efforts in places that lack reinforced public transportation provisions — ideal if the goal of car sharing is to cut down on the number of people who own cars, rather than put people who currently don’t use them into them.

33 replies on “Is Car Sharing Good for Cities?”

I must say that I disagree that zipcar encourages additional car trips in New York. I live in New York, and I don’t have a car. I must say that zip car on the whole reduces car use in the city. Yes, by allowing more convenient mobility, it does encourage some additional car trips by non-car owners, but it also prevents whole swaths of the population from needing to own vehicles in the city, and really makes people consider the cost of each auto trip. No matter how great the transit system is, there are trips that cannot easily be done by transit or bicycle (not that I haven’t tried). Moving, buying furniture, and other large hauling trips require a vehicle, and this is what most of my non-car owning friends use zipcar for. By having to pay for each car trip, zipcar makes you way more careful about which trips are necessary. Conversely, those that own cars in the city want to get their money’s worth by using them often, especially since they spend so much time moving them for alternate side parking rules and so much money paying for the inevitable tickets.

Zipcar certainly isn’t replacing many walking or transit trips, since the cost and convenience simply doesn’t justify taking a car ($16 zip car + traffic, parking, finding location, etc, vs pre-paid transit pass). I mainly use zipcars for work that needs to be done via automobile. The alternative to zipcar would be my company owning (and parking) a company vehicle. Since we don’t use cars that much, zipcar make infinite sense.

I’m wary of trying to further limit mobility in areas that are already having the least impact on the environment (NYC and San Francisco). In my opinion getting rid of zipcar just would mean more cars sitting in more garages and curbs in New York, and probably way more car trips for people trying to get their money’s worth, and that is not something I’m in favor of.

I strongly disagree that carsharing increases auto use. I haven’t owned a car in 10 years and PhillyCarShare only arrived on the scene here about 6 years ago. Admittedly, when I first joined PCS I used it a lot, partly because it was novel and partly because I was using it replace the weekend rentals I had been using when I needed to get out of town. Then I got my first few bills and changed my behavior. In the long run, what it has done, now that I’m a member of both PCS and Zipcar, is prevented me from buying a car and made me a lot more conscious of how much I’m driving.

I’m pretty sure that any extra trips that zipcar generates from people who would not have access to a car otherwise are outweighed by the trips not taken by people like me. If I didn’t have zipcar, I would probably own a car. If I owned a car, I probably wouldn’t think about the cost of each trip, whereas with zipcar the cost is upfront.

Even in a city with good transit, people will need cars to haul cargo. And, until we reach switzerland-like levels of transit penetration, we will need car sharing to plug (spatial and temporal) holes in the transit system.

A City Car Share membership (San Francisco here) made getting rid of my car possible for me.

The important difference between car sharing programs and owning your own car is WHEN you are charged for use of the vehicle. With a car share program, it’s immediate. If I choose to drive to the grocery store versus walk, I can see plainly it’s going to cost me an extra $30. Versus – if I own my car, the only cost I see directly right then – kinda some gas. But I’m not even buying that right then. And that’s what, maybe a dollar? That extra $29 of real-time cost is exactly why “each shared vehicle takes fifteen to twenty personal vehicles off the road”.

For cities/regions trying to make the transition from primarily suburban to having some sort of urban center (read: most all of the US, much of Canada) car sharing programs are an _essential_ part of the equation.

I agree with alurin’s comment:

“Even in a city with good transit, people will need cars to haul cargo. And, until we reach switzerland-like levels of transit penetration, we will need car sharing to plug (spatial and temporal) holes in the transit system.”

It’s unreasonable to expect people to transport larger items on transit as it exists today. Can you imagine bringing home a set of chairs on the NYC subway or even a tram in Basel? Delivery services can help, but those types of added expenses may just push people back into car ownership.

Car sharing is an invaluable part of an urban transportation system. It should be a small part, of course, but it plays a very valuable role in reducing the need to own one’s own vehicle.

You know what happens sometimes in Paris? It rains. As nice as Velib is, it simply doesn’t address this fact. Autolib does. In Montreal we have Bixi, and it’s amazing, but it will only operate for 7 months a year because of the harsh winters. Autolib would fill a niche here during the days when its -20 celsius and blowing snow. The public transit in Montreal is decent, but unless you want to go to places to close to metro stations here, there are major holes in the system, and sometimes it just simply takes too long to get to certain places. Bankrupting the transit system to make it more full-fledged is less desirable than tossing several hundred car-share cars on the road. I own a car that I use very infrequently, but am not interested in Zipcar because it’s too clunky with the whole having-to-take-the-car-back-to-the-same-place thing. If Montreal ever has something much more ubiquitous and integrated such as an ‘Autobixi’, I’d be much more inclined to sell our car.

I, too, will disagree that car sharing increases auto use. While there are definitely numbers which strongly suggest that it decreases auto use in every market (with the possible exception of New York), it’s best seen through parking. In Manhattan, nearly everything is within easy walking distance, or a short trip on the Subway. In a pinch, you can take a cab. No one, in their right mind, would pick up a car on the Upper West Side and drive to midtown for an errand, because they’d spend half an hour just trying to find a parking space. They’d take the Subway there, and, if they bought a lot of stuff, might take a taxicab home. It’s cheaper, faster and easier than a shared car.

So the only time that people in Manhattan (where almost all of New York’s shared cars are located, and New York has three car sharing organizations(CSOs): Zipcar, Hertz and Mint) use shared cars are for on trips out of the borough, which are exceedingly hard to make by transit, and costly in a taxi. Yes, some of these are trips which the drivers may not have taken before, but they are likely rare. Others would have been made in traditional rental cars, which are less convenient—anecdotal evidence makes it seem that, in New York, Zipcar is, in many cases, a more convenient way to rent a car for a day or two.

Thus, New York is probably the only place where car sharing has increased the number of drivers overall. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows them to live an energy-efficient lifestyle; the ability to make a trip out of the city every couple of weeks may be the difference between living car-free in an 800 square foot apartment and having two cars in a 4000 sf McMansion out of the city. In addition, it reduces the overall number of cars on the road (fewer New Yorkers, having joined Zipcar, have a car in a garage which comes out once or twice a month), which reduces the overall need for garage space. In a city like New York, space for parking is dead space that could otherwise lead to more housing for people living without cars.

I’d assume Paris would behave similarly to New York. Parking and traffic is atrocious. For people living in the city, 98% of their trips would continue to be on the Metro, Velib and by foot. Once a month, they might want to go on holiday (and may use the TGV anyway) or hit up Ikea, they’ll grab a shared car. Paris seems to have less parking then New York, but it’s there, and car sharing can reduce its demand.

Finally, on the paradox of one way rentals. I’m writing a blog post about this already (a preliminary piece is here, I’ll push the one-way rental analysis to the top of the to-do queue), but the long and short of it is that it won’t work in most cities. In less dense cities, like Minneapolis-Saint Paul (where, full disclosure, I work for the car sharing organization, HOURCAR, there is not enough density. People could take the car, drive it somewhere, and park it, but it’s not likely that anyone else would want it there for some time.

In denser cities, like Boston, New York and San Francisco (and Paris), the density is there, but there’s not enough parking. Parking is a huge cost for CSOs in dense cities, where spaces go for $300 or more per month. Right now, CSOs have one spot per car. To have enough reserved parking for peak travel in these cities would require buying hundreds of parking spaces which would just sit empty most of the time. That’s not feasible in what is already a low-margin business, and not desirable for cities, as empty parking as pretty much a waste of space. One of the huge selling points in, say, Boston, is that when you are done with a car, you have a reserved parking spot to return the car to. The whole time advantage of driving goes out the window if you have to spend twenty minutes circling the block, looking for somewhere to park.

(The only place that one-way rentals might work are where you have significant density and parking which is governed by a singular body, such as a large university campus. I’m still skeptical that Car2Go has a future in Austin, but it, along with Madison, is a city I could see this model coming at least close to feasibility.)

Finally, let’s assume that one-way car sharing takes off in a city like Paris (that, somehow, the parking issue is solved). First of all, traffic is already bad, and biking and the Metro are faster than driving. But if you throw a few thousand extra cars on to the street at peak times (generally noon to 8 p.m.) you’ll help create more gridlock. More traffic creates a further disincentive to driving, making the Metro or Velib faster, and driving people away from cars.

I’ve agreed with most of what I read on this blog, but I strongly object to the assertion that car sharing is a negative in New York, and especially in any other city. New York is really the only city which has a dense and large enough core to provide nearly any service imaginable. In San Francisco (and Boston, Philly, Chicago, DC, and Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver car sharing has, with little argument, been a fantastic augmentation to transit, reduced overall automobile ownership, and likely contributed to a net increase in alternative transportation use. It’s even what we’ve found when we’ve surveyed our membership here in the Twin Cities, which has a rather abysmal transit system. Car sharing is not a be-all and end-all solution, but an important part of an integrated transportation network.

The major national car rental outfits used to offer weekend discount that were explicitly not valid in the tri-state area/NYC. This was pewcisely because New Yorkers were smart enough not to bother owning a car, but used rentals for a weekend trip whether shopping or to the country. CSOs are merely taking this segment of the rental car market by making it more flexible. In either case, the vast majority of such car use is either hauling “freight” or the motorised steel raincoat/snowgear. Much as I wish to decrease auto usage overall, I see CSOs as a bright way to ween owners away from using the car because once you own it the incremental per trip cost is invisible.

@ David,

From what I know, all CSOs see higher use on weekends, precisely because our membership isn’t driving during the week. It is, of course, the exact opposite of what traditional car rentals see. However, I believe (by looking at reserved times in the NYC market) that there are more longer trips there, because transit makes short trips too easy to drive.

Car rental companies would love to leverage their large fleets for car sharing on weekends, since they sit idly in airport parking lots at that time. Of course … they sit in airport parking lots, nowhere near where they’d need to be to work as shared cars. Once you pay for spaces, to transport the cars and to have car sharing technology installed—which is not cheap, especially since traditional rental firms turn over their fleets so often—that business model pretty well collapses.

As far as the cost of driving, car sharing is fantastic. When people think of the cost of a three mile trip to the store, they forget about all the sunk costs of car ownership: licensing, depreciation and insurance, and only think about gas (10¢ a mile or so). Even with a 11 year old Toyota with minimal insurance, I figure a mile costs me at least a quarter. Which makes the four mile (one dollar) bike commute all the better.

I, for one, agree that Zipcar’s benefits are marginal and in the bigger picture, it has become an obstacle to the expansion of mass transit. Zipcar is a last-ditch effort to maintain the abundance of car infrastructure and is delaying the people from demanding and committing to better transit, safer access for bikes on the road. It removes the car from home, but not from the city, where it even expands their use. Residents in suburbia owning cars was never a problem, if developers wanted to squeeze more houses into a street and reduce the amount of road needed they would’ve followed the Japan/Hawaii model, the garage is your first floor, you live on the second and third. But land was cheap, knowledge limited, regulation nonexistent.

The cars may not be in your backyard, but they’re still in parking garages downtown, they’re still parked on the sides of streets and push the cyclist closer to the dangerous middle of the road, 6 lane highways are still needed, even more people are driving because it’s so cheap and accessible, despite Americans getting poorer and only just having to depend on mass transit, and now most of them will oppose building a track in a dense area because it impedes their imaginary right to the road.

Cars continuing to flood the streets, and in greater numbers, make pedaling risky and undesirable, buses inefficient and wasteful, streetcars building their right of way downright impossible. Will everyone have put up with the massive costs of subway, erect massive concrete pylons for a second level of monorail, encapsulating the polluted, unwalkable structure, just to maintain this so desirable ocean of pavement?

I do not agree with this notion that the American consumer is ultimately a rational actor, all knowing and a sage of responsibility when it comes to his purchases. Even if a bus downtown is cheaper, Mr. Hick will still pick up a shared car to disassociate himself from the poverty, ethnicity and ultimate shame of having to take a bus in car country, so long as the parking is available. No city government would willingly work against the interests of its citizens and make finding parking such a painful experience, for goodness’ sakes my reelection is on the line! Build expensive underground parking if you have to!

As for deliveries, no one should be stupid enough to buy a car JUST to move some furniture, but I do see Texans driving trucks carrying no weight, not even passengers. Go ahead and color me shocked I guess. People SHOULD be using professional delivery services, you can assemble it by yourself to save a penny, but a big truck with a lot of storing capacity SHOULD be the one swinging by everyone’s homes and dropping off furniture. The alternative is to have those dozen or so people whip out their cars, waste time on the road, keep alive the value of the car to perform the most inefficient things. The truck is cheaper for you, cheaper for society, it simply isn’t at your leisure. Ideally these things should take place from late evening to early morning, when everyone else is off the road. They don’t bother anyone, it’s faster deliveries, and they spend less money and resources getting it done.

This article raise interesting issues, but I’ll have to say that I strongly favor car-sharing services, because it improves the mobility options of urbanites and make the ownership of a vehicule less attractive. Once someone own a car, he/she has every incentives to use it a lot in order to maximise the return on investment. So giving people more option to remain car-less is key. Thats where car-sharing can help.

One of the potential issue with car-sharing is that when it is run by a private company (such as Zipcar or Communauto), competition between business is likely to be wasteful. With two or more services competing for rare parking spaces, users would face rising cost and less car-station. And once a car sharing service has secured a significant lead in one market, it is likely to establish itself as a monopoly with a network so big it cannot be challenged.

The state-run initiative of Autolib is very interesting in that regard.

At some point we should ask, “Why do we want the cars off the road in the first place.” I’m like most people here – I don’t like driving and I love the fact that I only drive my car once or twice a week. And I hope to reduce car dependency for several reasons:
-Cars Pollute
-Cars take up lots of space, both to drive and park
-Cars are dangerous
-Cars dependency results in urban space that is hostile to people

As far as I can see, car sharing reduces the first two very well. Car sharing means fewer cars, and it also mean cars will be more quickly replaced with more efficient models. I also think car sharing makes streets safer and produces more humane urban space, because it means fewer people are driving and more people are walking and cycling.

So, I think Yonah and RH Maxi are wrong. Car sharing doesn’t mean cars will be “flooding the streets, in greater and greater numbers.” It means fewer people driving. And car sharing is not an obstacle to the expansion of public transit – massive price tags, low-density development, and nimbyism are. And while central Paris may have train stations every 500m, the area outside Paris doesn’t, and car sharing is a far cheaper way to provide mobility to those areas than expanding mass transit until there is a critical mass of riders.

Perhaps things are different in Europe, but in the US no city has such ubiquitous mass transit that the car is not sometimes a useful tool.

Nice rant, Maxi, but where is the evidence that zipcar and other car sharing services are an obstacle to the expansion of mass transit?

The fact that jobs cluster means it will be difficult to use Autolib to commute to work. If 10,000 workers try to drive into downtown Paris or La Defense at the same time, Autolib will have to find a way of parking them. Parking is scarce and expensive, so either Autolib will increase prices for downtown drop-offs, or people will just not use those cars to get to work. Rush hour commutes also encounter heavy traffic, when the RER and Métro have a big advantage over driving.

This is only a real problem if Autolib plans to significantly expand parking capacity, which it doesn’t seem to, or if it plans to expand highway capacity, which it can’t.

In Japan, most of the advertising I’ve seen has been comparing the cost of owning a car (car payments, fuel, insurance, parking, etc.) vs. using a car sharing service rather than targeting non-drivers in particular. I suppose the high cost of ownership in Japan and the relatively low percentage of people with drivers licenses in urban areas are factors in determining what the companies perceive their market as. At the very least this is a data point in contrast to Yonah’s thesis.

Having belonged to City Carshare in San Francisco myself, I think the key problem with the Paris proposal is allowing for one-way use, as Ve’lib does. Requiring cars to be returned to the same place eliminates any temptation to use carshare for commuting. I do think there needs to be a provision for voluntarily carless people to be able to get cars when they want to get out of the city.

Is this a problem with the privatised model of Zipcar? A for-profit company will aim for whatever markets are handy without caring about the public policy consequence. Governments need to be using their leverage (such as parking spaces they control) to ensure that these companies — whether private or quasi-public — are actually helping to lower car ownership through their availability.

@ Patrick
First, we have to dismiss the idea that higher car ownership guarantees more VMT. Here are two charts on car ownership: from The Economist, and Wiki. They conflict, so I can’t tell who’s right, but both illustrate my point. Germany and France have higher car ownership than the US, yet significantly better transit and substantially higher ridership rates. Then, Switzerland owns more cars per capita than France, UK, and Belgium despite being notorious for the highest transit ridership (per capita) in the world? Is it possible that people buy expensive garbage they have little intention of using? I believe it. Lowering car ownership does not necessarily reduce VMT. To get more transit use, car-sharing has to tackle VMT in cities. CITIES is the focus here, THE URBAN NEXUS, gathering point of all life, knowledge, and culture. Suburbs and small towns don’t suffer from congestion problems, the biggest source of waste, conflict, inefficiency, the reason for mass transit. I’ll address this further below.

@ alurin

Let’s look at the closest thing to a car sharing analysis for San Francisco; the trouble here is the ‘overall decrease in VMT.’ Studies don’t get more specific than this so don’t see where the decrease and the invisible expansion that I sermon’d about occurs. Yes it decreases overall because people in the suburbs take a bus to the city where they then pick up a shared car. Look how little car sharing addresses the needs of the suburbs, the source of congestion, in San Fran, strategically located right below the BRIC. Here’s a service in Chicago, even worse. These services deliberately target transit riders who didn’t own a car to begin with, they’re easier to pick off than getting existing car owners to give up their cars. All under the mantle of ‘overall, they drive less’ well yeah, some of those guys didn’t drive to begin with. They’re taking good apples and bad apples, making a moderate sauce out of them, and telling me the moderate sauce is better than the sauce made with only bad apples.

Car-sharing reputedly makes 20-40% of its people give up their cars, or delay their purchase of one. I imagine people who own a car AND partake in the sharing service are 1) stupid, 2) in transition to giving it up, thus a small percentage (for sure less than 20%). Who could be delaying their purchase of a car? People who never owned one to begin with. Potentially, less than half of car sharing customers own/owned a car in their time with the service. The other half (the first statistic is a mixed statistic) is peopled ripped from transit riding, people with no use for a car. They now have access to produce VMT and cause all those bad things we talked about in the beautiful urban nexus without the liability of owning a car.

What I assume is the end result of this is that suburbs get less car riders, despite not having much problems besides pollution with cars, but city centers get even more cars. Initially VMT rises because transit advocates start using cars first, their prime market. It even says so in the study. Overall VMT drops as suburban people find out how a bike/bus + this is cheap cheap cheap and taking that shared car to the suburb, outskirts, or another city becomes costly(that is where most VMT takes place). Driving becomes exclusive to city centers and acts as a counter to the expansion of mass transit’s home turf. Car sharers are still essentially car owners, they will fight for more right on the street and undermine mass transit even fiercer because they don’t believe any city pork project can compete with the cheap fare of brilliant market invention: shared cars. But now they have additional recruits, former loyal transit rider can stab our back because car sharing moved into his high density neighborhood, and the battle gets tougher. It’s a plus for suburbs, but it’s not as if car ownership was the deciding factor in low density development. From the start they wanted to be the polar opposite of cities, because cities=bad, a lot of activity=a lot of crime, sickness and minorities, cars were simply used as a the vehicle to implement them. We’re talking cities anyway, and until a detailed study that addresses my suspicions is done, I still believe they’re getting the short end of the stick.

San Francisco is creating/preserving 500 parking spaces for this program. It’s banking on the belief that less vehicles will be in use in the city and it will be able to take down more parking than it put up sometime soon. The study doesn’t even mention this, the program is quite literally advocating giving more of the city to cars so long as CO2 emissions are reduced. And only 800 tons are removed, going back to the policy paper, just about every other program under ‘Decreasing VMT’ reduces more CO2 without giving anything to the single guy driving a big empty car. Initially there just wasn’t even that much faith.

In Belgium we did a survey among car-sharers (Cambio). Our results were veru good. Since last week we have 5000 cambio-customers in Brussels. some of the results: 1270 cars less in Brussels (People who get rid of their car, and people who would have definitely bought a car withoot car-sharing).

Cambio-members answered that they use more the bike, walking or Public transport. There are also car-sharers who answered the opposite, but much less. The overall modal shift is very positive.

I think the difference in Paris is the offer of Car-Sharing from one station, to another station. In belgium (and many other countries) you always have to bring back the car to the same station. If not, you’re compeeting with public transport. Car-Sharing is not in competition with public transport, but a -sometimes necessary – completion. Car-Sharing cannot without public transport and public transport needs car-sharing.They are proven complemntary. That’s why public transport operators in Belgium are shareholders of Cambio.

TH Maxi, I would always bet against the Economist. The Wikipedia data comes from the UN and accords with national data I’ve seen for the US, Germany, and South Korea; the Economist conflicts with this data, giving car ownership numbers for the US that are far lower than what the US itself reports. The Economist claims just under 500 cars per 1,000 people in the US; the New York DMV claims 549 in New York state, which has the lowest car use and ownership rate in the US because of New York City’s transit system.

Using the Wikipedia data, it turns out that the US has the highest per-capita car ownership in the world, and that most of the runners up are countries with poor rail service, such as Canada, Australia, and Iceland.

On a tangential note, one way car sharing can help transit is by reducing the number of vehicle sales. Taxis have the same function. An auto industry that sells like today’s GM cannot lobby against transit as effectively as an auto industry that sells like the 1970s’ GM.

I agree with Yonah.

I live in the city. I sold my car six months ago, and I’ve rented twice since: once a truck to haul some of my belongings around, and once a car to travel out of town for the weekend on the spur of the moment. The idea that there are city dwellers like myself who are using car sharing to “transition” away from having a car is inane. You sell your car and enjoy sleeping a half-hour more in the mornings, because you no longer have to comply with alternate-side parking. It’s not like quitting smoking, it’s like pulling a thorn out of your paw.

City dwellers don’t live in large dwellings, generally. The idea that we have some kind of unmet need for wheels to go to Ikea or Costco every month or so is nuts. I don’t need that much furniture because I don’t have a huge apartment, and when I needed to move large amounts of furniture, I rented a truck, not a car. You can’t put an Ikea sofa in the back of a midsize car like a Nissan Maxima. I’ve tried.

As for the food issue, I have a supermarket around the corner, so I don’t need to buy cat food, soda, jars of peanut butter, or cans of tunafish in bulk. Maybe they cost 20 or 50 cents more at the local supermarket, but the convenience of not having to buy six cans of tunafish when I only need one, and having them right around the corner available 7 am to 10 pm, far outweighs any possible desire to spend a couple hours going big-box shopping, and any possible cost “savings” from buying in bulk.

Jonathan: I live in a suburb of Boston. I have a house with a yard. I do not personally own a car. I commute to work by bike and bus/train. However, I do occasionally have unmet needs to go to Ikea or Costco. My local supermarket is a Whole Foods, and a small one at that, so sometimes I need to do shopping outside of walking distance. Everything I’ve bought from Ikea I’ve been able to fit in a car.

As for why someone would sign up for carsharing if they already owned a car, Maxi, they’re not stupid. They’re trying to avoid buying a second car. I joined up when my partner took a job out of town. She had the car (because it was a job in a transit-forsaken place), and I only needed a car every once in a while, So I signed up for car sharing. Eventually, we both got jobs in the same place, and sold the car. So start using your imagination before you hurl insults at people.

Alurin, as you point out, you don’t live in a city; you live in the suburbs, perhaps Arlington or Somerville; are you shopping at the Fresh Pond Whole Foods? Maybe if I lived there I would get zipcar too!

Regarding the car ownership statistics: the Economist could be looking at the number of passenger cars per 1000 persons, while the Wikipedia data source counts all motor vehicles (including trucks, farm vehicles, motorcycles, etc.). Both sources are unavailable for review (the IRF data is not free, and the Wiki-linked data isn’t available).

If Autolib does happen, I hope the vandals won’t see driving as a bougie thing and steal or trash all the cars.

I have a car sharing membership I received for free from my work. I’ve used it once. I won’t renew. I find my bicycle way more convenient (the nearest car when I rented was over a mile away and I biked to it) and cheaper (I rented a car from midnight to 2 AM when it was $6 per hour).

I think the “Greens” are right. Maybe the 4 million euros can go to running Metro trains past 1 AM.

See the first comment on this page:

The Economist chart obviously was only looking at the ownership rate of “cars” and omitted the data for light trucks and SUVs, which make up something like 40% of the United States passenger vehicle fleet. In Europe, by comparison, light trucks and SUVs are relatively rare. So the Economist chart is really not an apples to apples comparison like the vehicles per capita data shown on the Wiki page in which the United States is the undisputed world leader.

See also

Jonathan: West Medford, actually. We should keep in mind that the inner suburbs of Boston are quite compact by the standards of the rest of the country, because they were originally built around transit, not cars. A system that can reduce car usage in places like Medford, Arlington, or Somerville could be very useful in many American central cities with similar densities.

I have to say that having car share is great and doesn’t keep people from using transit at all. Car share programs impress upon people the true opportunity cost of driving because you pay at the moment you use it. In a city like Paris that is transit-saturated and people presumably already have monthly transit passes, suddenly subbing in car share trips wouldn’t make sense economically.

Why car share is great, though, is because it lets people who would otherwise hang on to their cars finally let go. In Portland, OR, people can use transit all over the city, but Portland is so great because of the access to mountains & beach – none of which is reachable by transit. Having car share means you can run out to the beach for the day or up onto Mt. Hood; that you can run errands for a party and not have to lug it all home on the bus…all the little things that might convince people who are ready to go car-free but want that extra security blanket “just in case.”

Also, I disagree with RH Maxi that bikers and cars sharing the road is inherently dangerous. I think in a bike-friendly city you can have harmony. I seldom felt endangered pedaling around Portland, and even now that I live in St. Louis I don’t feel like having cars on the road with me is a problem so much as the attitude of the drivers in those cars. Change the attitudes, like they have in Portland, and you change the hazard. Besides, I think people driving car-share cars are going to be exactly the kind of conscious drivers I’d like to see out on the road.

RH Maxi’s other point seems to be that car sharing will turn “former loyal transit riders” who will “stab our back”. In addition to sounding paranoid, this goes against both my experience and logic. Anecdotally, all the car-sharing members I know continue to be loyal transit riders (and bikers). In my neighborhood, there is a fight over bringing Boston’s Green Line out to the neighborhood. The car-sharing members are all for it. The opponents are car-owners who are afraid that light rail will cause people from neighboring towns to drive in to park in our neighborhood and use the T, thus increasing traffic and making it difficult to find a parking space. Car-sharers don’t carer about finding parking, because they’re not responsible for parking the shared car. Car sharers don’t care much about traffic, because they don’t drive every day.
More importantly, as people on this thread have pointed out over and over again, car-sharing makes the would-be driver aware of the the cost of each drive. People who own their own cars drive so much in part because it seems like the economical thing to do: you’ve already paid thousands of dollars for the car, and you’re paying for insurance whether you drive or take the bus; might as well drive,because it reduces the cost per drive. Car-sharing helps people to unlearn that way of thinking. When you’re paying $10/hour for a car, you think about your decision first.

The only reason why car companies are actually building electric cars is that they got a huge wake up call when gas prices went through the roof a couple of years ago. They finally realized that their business was severely threatened if they did not find another source of cheap fuel. They didn’t have to look very far before finding dirty old coal that can be used to make cheap electricity. It is obvious that they continue to care nothing about the environment or future generations.

Thus, electric cars are bad for the environment as they will increase the number of years in which people can continue to drive everywhere for everything thus greatly increase the total GHG emissions from cars in the future. If we stick to just gas powered cars, the GHG emissions are limited to the total supply of oil, which will run out sooner or later. With electric cars, not only will cars burn through the entire gas supply, they also have a much larger fuel supply, coal to burn through.

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