Carsharing and the urban transportation picture

Image from eMotion MobilityHow does carsharing work?

Carsharing currently operates on two service models: neighborhood carsharing and
station carsharing.

Neighborhood-based carsharing first developed in Europe, moved to Canada, and migrated into the U.S. market at Portland and Seattle. Carsharing works best when it serves people in intense areas of activity such as high-density housing or mixed use commercial/residential developments. People gain access to vehicles within convenient walking distance of where they already spend a considerable amount of time.

Take, for example, an architect who prefers to ride the train every day from his Shaker Heights home to Tower City. But because he occasionally has suburban meetings with clients, he also pays for a monthly parking pass to be sure he'll have a spot convenient to his downtown office on those days he'll need to drive.  He dreads the rush-hour commutes each way on those days.

But if Cleveland offered a carsharing network, this downtown professional would have an alternative to buying an expensive monthly parking pass. For the handful of times he needs a car to visit a client per month, he would go online and arrange to use a carshare car parked in the mall's garage. At $8.50 per hour (which includes gas, insurance and maintenance), he would pay roughly the same amount for two hours of carsharing as he would for bringing his car downtown without wear on his own car and without the aggravation of rush-hour traffic.

In large metro areas, carsharing companies are marketing themselves to small and large business customers interested in controlling costs while accessing a "corporate fleet." Small businesses benefit by sharing the costs of operation. From the carsharing company's perspective, at the end of the business day, the cars are in service for downtown residents or are relocated to the neighborhoods.

With station cars, carsharing companies partner with a large corporation or a public agency and place vehicles at train station park-and-rides or industrial park campuses.

Picture a small fleet of cars at RTA Park-n-Rides such as the Brookpark Rapid station. Those cars could be signed out by the hour and provide service to and from NASA, the airport, the Ford plant, etc.

Why should cities consider carsharing?

On top of that, our cities allocate more total land area to parking spaces than the total area used by our homes.

Clearly, carsharing fits into the urban transportation picture. Its social and environmental benefits include easing traffic congestion, lowering emissions and reducing the overall need for parking. One carshare car can replace upwards of six privately owned vehicles on the road, according to UC-Berkeley professor, Susan Shaheen.

Cast in economic development terms, carsharing can support changes in parking policies that facilitate better community outcomes. Most parking spaces in cities are currently freea strong incentive for people who already own cars to continue driving them. The cycle of always driving is perpetuated by our building codes which require large lots of minimum parking to accommodate each car and daily peak flow.

In reality, all this "free" parking ends up raising the overall cost of development, UCLA professor Donald Shoup states in his article, "In Lieu of Required Parking"(PDF). Residents pay through higher prices for housing, consumers pay through higher prices in goods and services, and employers pay through higher office rents.

One solution working in cities such as Palo Alto, California allows developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing the required parking, Shoup writes. Cities then use that "in lieu" revenue to provide more publicly owned parking spaces or transit amenities. The developer, in turn, may build-out more rentable space and maximize the profit of his building.

In some cities, such as Berkeley, California, a trend is forming where a developer incorporates a car sharing space or two into a residential or commercial building, and subsidizes the carsharing membership application cost for residents or occupants of that building. Public policy may facilitate this further by lowering parking minimums and rewarding developerswho are paying roughly $12,500 per parking space in garages and another 1.5 percent per space in maintenance, according to a 1998 parking plan prepared for The Ohio State University.

What are the benefits of carsharing to individuals?

We use cars an average of just two hours a day. After all the washing, polishing, emotional and financial investments, they're idle for 22 hours a day and doing nothing for us in return.

Yet the American Automobile Association (AAA) calculates that the average cost in 2004 of owning and operating a new car driven 15,000 annual miles was about $8,431 per year.

But with fixed costs of ownership comprising much of that total ($6,541 = $17.92 per day in 2004, according to AAA), the cost per mile increases dramatically if you're walking, biking or using public transit to meet your travel needs and not driving everyday.

The bottom line? If you drive less than about 8,000 miles per year, carsharing will save money over private ownership.

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