The popular Parisian car-sharing scheme Autolib’, which has a self-service fleet of electric vehicles in the French capital and its inner suburbs, has revived the idea of car sharing. The concept of sharing a car is not new. Car-sharing schemes existed twenty years ago in countries like Switzerland and Germany. However, the concept was little known, but now players in both the automobile and transport sectors are showing a keen interest in it.
What is car-sharing?
Car-sharing, car clubs, self-service car-sharing…a multitude of terms to describe the same thing. Wikipedia’s definition is fairly representative:
"Car-sharing (or car clubs in the UK) is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. […] The organization renting the cars may be a commercial business, a public agency, a cooperative, an association or even an individual." It is a form of short-term rental which provides all the advantages of a vehicle use without the disadvantages.
Not to be confused with car pooling where a car owner shares the commute with other commuters, nor with car rental, since the principle of self-service is at the very heart of the way this system functions. Vehicles are to be found at several key locations throughout a city, they are available 24/24, and booking for short rentals; rental can be done on the internet or by phone. The other major difference is the all inclusive nature of the formula. The rates include such costs as fuel or insurance and users only pay for what they use: mileage or time.
Reasons for its popularity
The economic potential of car-sharing depends on the extent that the phenomenon has taken hold on all continents. In Europe, Germany numbers almost 100,000 car-sharing members and Switzerland almost 90,000. In the United States over 300,000 members belong to a service such as Zipcar. Elsewhere in the world, in Japan and Australia, car-sharing companies are emerging. In France, the service is at its beginnings but the trend is to become a member is growing. With almost 10,000 users, the number of members belonging to a car-sharing scheme has almost doubled in 2 years.
The current trends lead us to predict real prospects for car-sharing. Ownership of a vehicle is being seen as increasingly restrictive: cost of upkeep, fuel, congestion in the main urban traffic arteries, and difficulty of finding a parking space… On the other hand local authorities are more receptive to the idea of integrating the issue of transport into a Sustainable Development strategy. They are developing the means and tools to dispense with the car as a main mode of transport and moving towards multimodality. The car must become complementary to other modes such as public transport, bicycle, car rental… According to the requirements of commute time, distance and other constraints, the users choose from the most convenient transport option on offer.
Major players are entering the car-sharing segment
The success stories of car-sharing firms such as Mobility CarSharing in Switzerland or Zipcar in the United States are attracting certain traditional actors in the fields of transport and automobiles to enter the sector. Car-sharing is complementary to their core business. It is often a way of showcasing certain synergies and proposing mobility services which have a real economic potential at a lesser cost. Below are some firms in the car-sharing sector:
- Short-term rental: Hertz with its ConnectbyHertz service in London and Paris
- Transport operator: Veolia Transport with Mobizen in Paris
- Automaker: Daimler with Car2Go in Ulm
However, these firms understand that providing a car-sharing service, in addition to their traditional activities, is not enough to attract more members. The three following trends will promote the service:
1. Integrate car-sharing into local mobility services
The creation of local partnerships with public transport operators and/or local authorities is a way of meeting the mobility needs of users who have given up their car. Car-sharing is increasingly being considered as just another mode of transport on offer in any region. The advantages of a partnership are illustrated by the ’Auto’trement scheme in Strasbourg where the pricing scheme offers a 10 % to 15 % reduction on the CTS (Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois) travel card, as well as reductions for traditional rental services (Budget, Ucar, Europ Car and Avis). In London, TfL (Transport for London) promotes car-sharing in different ways such as subsidies for car clubs, communication campaigns and the chance for members of companies, approved by the local authority, to use their Oyster travel card to access the car-sharing vehicles.
2. Cars on demand using the web, mobiles and smart cards
The immediacy and simplicity of the service contribute to user acceptance. It is for this reason that car-sharing companies rapidly devised the mobility on demand model where clients use cell phones or contactless smart cards to book and use the vehicles. The latest addition is an iPhone application developed by the American company Zipcar.
3. Diversify the target groups
For several years now, car-sharing companies have been diversifying their offer by targeting the professionals. This improves the optimization of the fleet, notably during week days and at the same time increases their customer base. Carbox Services adopted mobility-on-demand as its unique business model; it delegates its car-sharing fleets to the clients’ business sites and in certain cases provides other services such as on-the-spot maintenance.
Is car-sharing the ideal service for introducing the electric vehicle?
Public authorities and industrialists see the car-sharing model as an ideal way to create a new market and deploy the electric vehicle.
- Firstly, the way the vehicles are used is ideal for electric vehicles with their limited autonomy: short trips, urban use, dedicated charging points, etc.
- Secondly, client services based on mobile technology afford a large measure of freedom to the user to imagine future uses for the charging points. Thus, the company Coulomb Technologies has set up a solution based on the same smart telematics tools used by certain car-sharing solutions, to identify members before using a charging network, to give the availability of charging stations in real-time and to gather data concerning the user’s energy consumption.
- Lastly, the methods of financing and implanting car-sharing companies by involving local authorities prefigures the electric vehicle deployment models: delegation of a public service, financing and building of charging infrastructure, creation of parking places, etc.
A syndicate of local authorities working together to deploy a car-sharing scheme like Autolib’ is a model that could be used for the deployment of self-service electric vehicle schemes in cities.