Anyone who has ever driven around a crowded city has undoubtedly experienced the common frustrations of traffic jams and limited parking. And if you live in the city? Owning a car is not only a headache, but it can be expensive when you consider higher insurance rates and taxes, parking fees, and maintenance. For many people, these hassles, coupled with the availability of public transportation, means that many city dwellers don’t even own a car.
But what about those who don’t have easy access to public transport? Or those who live in urban areas, but need a car on occasion? There is a growing trend that can solve these problems (and many more) that local governments are beginning to support: Carsharing.
What Is Car Sharing?
Carsharing is exactly what it sounds like: Sharing a vehicle. However, it’s slightly more complex than asking your mom if you can borrow the family van for the night.
Formal carsharing is like renting a car, except instead of paying for several days, you only rent the car for a few hours. Depending on the service, you can either pick up and return the vehicle at a designated lot, or take the closest available vehicle, and then park in a designated location when you are done. Unlike a traditional rental car, though, carsharing typically requires that drivers purchase a membership (usually less than $100 per year) and then pay an hourly fee for use of the car, which includes fuel and insurance.
Advanced car sharing technology makes this possible. Most service members download an app, or use a website, which can pinpoint the location and availability of all the service’s vehicles. Users select a vehicle, pay, and are given a code that they can use to access the vehicle. For drivers who don’t need a car that often, the arrangement represents a huge amount of convenience without a lot of expense. There are some drawbacks, of course, including a need to watch the clock when you have a shared vehicle and the fact that such a service isn’t ideal for a daily commuter, but for the occasional need, a shared car is ideal.
How Car Sharing Benefits Communities
So why should city governments support car sharing services? Beyond benefits to consumers, car sharing has numerous benefits to communities.
Reduced congestion. Car sharing reduces the number of vehicles on the road. For many families, it’s a viable option to purchasing a second car, and in some areas, allows them to go car-free. Studies have shown that car sharing encourages individuals to consider alternative modes of transportation, due to the added costs of driving, meaning that more people are walking, riding bikes, or taking public transportation instead of driving, and saving car usage for longer trips. This reduces the overall congestion in urban areas.
Better parking. Most vehicles are parked for much of the day — and in many cities, they remain parked for days or weeks at a time. By relying on car sharing only went a car is truly needed, we can free up parking areas.
Cleaner environment. Car sharing helps improve air quality and reduces resource usage. Taking cars off the road reduces harmful emissions as well as the amount of gas consumed. In fact, car sharing also supports an electric car lifestyle. While electric cars are more environmentally friendly, they can only travel a limited number of miles before needing to be recharged. Car sharing allows individuals to use their electric vehicles for everyday travel, and have access to a gas-powered vehicle for longer trips.
Increased access. Car ownership is out of reach for many individuals, which can create barriers to accessing necessary services. By supporting car sharing services, local governments can make it possible for lower income individuals to access transportation when necessary to get to places that are beyond public transportation routes, or when public transportation is not practical.
Reduced cost of living. Cities are notoriously expensive, and transportation costs can eat up a significant part of personal income. Car sharing services can reduce transportation costs, thus making other needs more affordable, including housing.
Clearly, car sharing can benefit local communities in several powerful ways. Local governments are well-served to support these enterprises, and encourage constituents to take advantage of them and reduce their dependence on personal vehicles.