Author: Shared-Use Mobility Center
Carshare has been a part of the transportation landscape for over 50 years. Since its inception, tremendous developments in technology and communications have improved efficiencies and the user experience of carshare services. Trends show that the carshare industry will continue to grow its user base.
This learning module reviews the history, evolution, and current events in the carshare industry.
Baby boomers experienced access to wealth in a way that millennials generally have not. The global car shortage has made car ownership even more unlikely amongst younger generations in 2021, and so carshare is an appealing option.
Advancements in GPS and mobile technology continue to improve the user experience for more and more people.
Federal and local policies can encourage carshare companies to incorporate equitable service strategies.
Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For each vehicle in a carshare fleet, up to 15 personal vehicles can be replaced on the road.
Formal carshare has its roots in France and Amsterdam in the early 1970s. The most enduring operations started in Germany and Switzerland in the mid-1980s. In the 1990s, Carshare Portland became “the first official car sharing operation in the United States” (Portland Bureau of Transportation). Around this time, programs were piloted in the United States in Indiana (city of West Lafayette) and California (city of San Francisco). These programs ended after a few years. Zipcar, a nationally recognizable carshare company, began in Boston in 2000 and is still a major provider in the carshare industry. Since 2000, many companies have joined the carshare space and have diversified services and business models.
Earlier carshare businesses worked on a round-trip model, meaning that vehicles were parked and returned to a designated, usually off-street space. Users retrieved keys from lockboxes, the locations of which were charted on hard-copy maps. The rebirth of the mode in the 2000s was enabled by advancements in GPS and mobile technologies that allowed the user to locate, reserve, and unlock the vehicle online.
Half a century later, carshare companies continue to operate in a highly competitive space and offer more convenient and affordable choices to the user than ever. Carshare competes with car ownership by offering a selection of vehicle models and types, competitive pricing packages, and user convenience.
As shown in this image, carshare models now include insurance, maintenance, fuel, and parking for the user, and simplify payment to an hourly rate.
Adaptive Vehicle: Adaptive vehicles are modified vehicle designs of transportation modes to meet the needs of people with different mobility constraints.
Assistive Technology: Assistive technology includes products, equipment, and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities (Source). Examples of assistive technology include color modification, switch, voice control, and screen readers.
One-Way Carshare: Users borrow vehicles for one leg of their trip, either to or from their destination. Research by the Shared-Use Mobility Center suggests that the use of carshare as one of the multiple shared modes is associated with greater transit use than people who use transit alone. There are two main types of one-way carshare:
Free-floating carshare: A fleet of one-way vehicles can be located and reserved by app, then picked up or parked at any legal parking spot within a specific geographic zone (often an entire municipality).
Point-to-point carshare: Users may park at any designated location. Point-to-point arrangements are more common for one-way EV carshare since the vehicle needs to be parked at charging stations between trips. This kind of carshare typically works best when there are many destinations that are in a relatively short (2-4 miles) range from one another.
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Carshare: Service owner-members make their privately-owned vehicles available for sharing with renter-members, and users must return the vehicle to the point of origin at the end of their trip.
Round-Trip Carshare: Users borrow and return vehicles at the same location. In large urban areas, multiple carshare vehicles or groups of vehicles may be available within a radius of just a few blocks. In smaller towns or suburban centers, round-trip carshare vehicles might need to be strategically placed to capitalize on locations with a strong user base.
Subscription Models: Subscription-based carshare services are somewhere between a vehicle lease and traditional carshare models, with monthly rather than hourly units of rental and no long-term commitment like a traditional lease. These models bundle insurance coverage, maintenance, and road hazard protection, and more into the subscription price.
Freemium: Users do not pay per trip, but in exchange for vehicles with advertisements displayed.
This section discusses how local governments and the federal government can take steps to create a welcoming environment for carshare in the United States and within their jurisdictions through regulations and policies.
Here are examples of how local and federal regulations can support carshare within a jurisdiction.
Parking Regulations – For free-floating carshare programs, designate city parking as carshare spaces only. Remove time limit restrictions and payment requirements in paid parking areas or time-limited parking areas.
Permitting for Carshare Pilot Programs – Develop streamlined and expedited permitting process for carshare companies. For example, in 2018, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation created the Multiple-Provider Car Share Fixed Space and Point-to-Point Car Share Permit Program to set more formal fee structures and changes to administrative approvals to support carshare pilot programs in the region.
Regional Coordination – Cities can coordinate and share the same carshare services so that users can cross cities or jurisdictions without parking or zone limitations. For example, Gig Car Share in the Bay Area has designated zones in San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, Albany, and Berkeley in addition to providing parking spaces in strategic locations between zones.
Review Driver License Suspensions – To use carshare, proof of a valid United States driver’s license is required. Local and federal governments may establish policies and regulations to review suspended or revoked driver’s licenses on a case-by-case basis to remove barriers to using carshare within their jurisdiction.
Data Sharing Agreements – Carshare does not have its own data specification, making it a bit more challenging for potential users to find available carshare vehicles. However, the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS), which specifies the format in which micromobility providers (traditionally bikeshare operators) can publicly present service information has been used by carshare company, Free2Move in the United States and Europe.
Disincentivize Private Vehicle Ownership – Strategies such as congestion charging or high parking costs can encourage people to try carshare as an alternate transportation mode.
Incentivize Carshare for City Staff – Create membership plans for city staff that encourage the use of carshare for work trips. Cities who have replaced underutilized fleets have achieved significant cost savings. For example, “[i]n 2004, the City of Philadelphia eliminated more than 300 municipal vehicles with a net savings of approximately $9 million over a five-year period, including reduced costs for acquisition, parking, vehicle maintenance, and fuel (Friedman 2006). In that same year, the City of Berkeley replaced 15 underused fleet cars with five carsharing vehicles, yielding approximately $400,000 in savings over three years, from $250,000 in replacement cars, gasoline, and maintenance and $150,000 on insurance and fleet management (City of Berkeley Mayor’s Office 2004)” (Source).
Implement Supportive Parking Policies – Have supportive policies that address parking allocation, parking caps, fees and permits, signage, and parking enforcement.
Require Carshare Companies Have Community Engagement – Require carshare companies to have a robust community engagement plan, impact studies, and reporting plan in order to operate within a city’s jurisdiction.
Revise Minimum Parking Requirements for New Developments – New developments adhere to minimum parking requirements, which results in significant square footage dedicated to parking lots instead of building use. By leasing parking spots to carshare, developers can reduce the number of parking spots they provide.
Oakland and Berkeley, California – In these cities, there is a cooperative permit program that allows carsharing organizations to park their vehicles in a residential parking permit zone for up to 72 hours. The organizations might also prepay so that vehicles can park in the metered spots for up to 72 hours. The municipalities formed an agreement to enlarge the service area.
Santa Monica, California– In this city, a carsharing program was built into its comprehensive plan, designating on- and off-street parking according to where it saw the demand, and then offering permits to operators. From this foundation, it also built its Electric Vehicle Action Plan, which added charging station infrastructure planning for private and shared electric vehicles to the framework.
Washington, District of Columbia – This city was an early adopter of one-way, or point-to-point, carsharing. In return for allowing the vehicles free rein in both permit parking and meter zones, the providers must pay an annual permit fee. DC also has an equity policy that grants parking at fixed rail transit stations provided all wards within the city are served.
Seattle, Washington – This city has a free-floating carshare program that established incentives to ensure operators are distributing vehicles equitably throughout the city in exchange for larger fleet sizes. The program was expanded in January 2015 and updated metrics were released in 2016. The Seattle carshare program complements the Commute Trip Reduction state law and commuter benefits program.
Los Angeles, California – In this city, the Mayor’s Office created the Tiger Team to coordinate and streamline the permitting process for a carshare pilot program, called BlueLA. The LA Department of Water and Power had also partially reimbursed BlueLA for 200 charge points.
Before implementing a carshare program, having community input and understanding their needs is critical to implementing a successful carshare program. By establishing and leveraging community-based partners, each group can work with the community that they have a special relationship with to understand barriers and transportation needs. Community-based groups are especially valuable since they have established trust with community members and can help get honest and quick feedback that allows car share operators to iterate and improve their products and services.
In order to understand who the target community is and understand their habits and needs, here are some high-level strategies that have been deployed before a car share program is implemented. Note that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that who conducts community engagement and how community engagement is conducted, matters.
Incorporate digital participations
Conduct needs assessment
Access, utilize and visualize current mobility options
Conduct focus groups
Build local partnerships and communications channels (e.g. libraries)
After capturing qualitative and/or quantitative data about the community and their needs, cities and operators can have a more informed discussion about whether car share is the right solution for the community, and if so, discuss and analyze where to place car share infrastructure in the community.
For the BlueLA car sharing pilot program that concluded in 2019, a Steering Committee and part-time Street Ambassadors were formed to ensure that community members participated to set and achieve community engagement goals together. For community engagement events, “the events were conducted in both English and Spanish with translation equipment provided, and bilingual FAQ sheets were provided. Childcare, snacks and drinks were also made available for attendees at each event to ensure convenient and comfortable participation for household caregivers.” (Source) Through this pilot, the Steering Committee learned that for community engagement efforts to work well, having an ample budget for outreach, hosting community forums, having a business outreach plan, and regular communications between the Steering Committee and car share company are all very important.
Car share business models and user interfaces have evolved tremendously to bring more operational ease and resilience to the user. There is greater dependence on smartphone capabilities to reserve, track vehicles, lock, and report vehicle damage.
Not all car share companies offer equal services in rural and suburban parts of the United States. Car share companies often list the cities they operate in on their websites, and their products and services may be less available in suburban and rural areas. Some reasons why a car share company may not be active in a city are:
Parking obstacles and challenges;
Car share companies may not see suburban or rural areas as profitable business opportunities due to low population density;
Barriers by the local governments that do not support operations within their jurisdictions (e.g. excessive bureaucracy, unsupportive regulatory environment, poor regional coordination);
The federal government is lacking supportive transportation policies;
Or residents may find it more convenient or financially sustainable to own a vehicle.
Regardless of where someone lives, not everyone wants to or can afford to own their own personal vehicle. To fill the transportation gap in these communities, car share companies might forge partnerships with local organizations to bring pilots and programs to communities in need.
Here are some examples of public-private partnerships.
In 2019, through strategic partnerships, Miocar began serving rural areas in San Joaquin Valley, California. Members of this program have access to 100% electric vehicles for $4 per hour or $35 per day.
Some car share companies have business models that are location agnostic. For example, Turo is a peer-to-peer car share company that depends on car owners listing their personal vehicles on Turo’s online marketplace. The feasibility of this business model is not determined or limited by operating in an urban area or a rural area.
Here are some examples of cities that have formalized the role of car share in their transportation systems by including information in city plans or reports:
The District Department of Transportation, District of Columbia – In 2011, Washington, DC was one of the first cities to implement an equitable (serves all neighborhoods) one-way car share parking strategy. Car share in DC supported a point-to-point, or one-way car share program “in residential permit parking zones and at metered parking spaces without having to pay the associated fee.” The reserved on-street spots for traditional, round-trip car share increased access to the shared vehicles and improved visibility for the programs. The city program also helped streamline parking acquisition for car share operators.
Shared Mobility Action Plan for the Twin Cities, Minnesota – In 2017, the Shared-Use Mobility Center published the SharedMobility Action Plan for the Twin Cities. In this plan, expanding and growing car share is one of ten strategies proposed to improve regional mobility in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).
Vehicle Sharing Parking Permit Policy, California – In 2017, the SFMTA published the Vehicle Sharing Parking Permit Policy. It outlines car share policies to support one of SFMTAs’ goals to “make transit, walking, bicycling, taxi, ride sharing, and car sharing the preferred means of travel.” (SFMTA Strategic Plan) This document has been developed to make it easier for vehicle sharing organizations to enter San Francisco’s market. In this document, SFMTA outlines vehicle sharing policies, eligibility requirements, approval processes, and pricing.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), California – In 2018, MTC published the Bay Area Carsharing Implementation Strategy. The Shared-Use Mobility Center worked with MTC and UrbanTrans North America on this report, which focuses on how to increase “carsharing membership and usage in the Bay Area as a method of reducing single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips and VMT, with the overall goal of reducing GHGs.” (Bay Area Carsharing Implementation Strategy.)
Here are strategies that car share companies may incorporate to remove barriers for users and to make their products and services equitable:
Operate in all neighborhoods – Operate in low-income and minority neighborhoods to increase visibility and access to car share services.
Install charging equipment in all neighborhoods – As car share moves towards incorporating more electric vehicles into fleets, charging infrastructure must be available in all neighborhoods, not just majority-White areas. This graph shows that Black and Hispanic communities are already being provided fewer charging stations than White communities. Communities are already being left behind as electric vehicles grow in numbers.
All – electric fleet – Have all-electric fleets to reduce the disproportionate impact of air pollution on low-income and minority neighborhoods.
Payment Options – Have multiple payment structures to anticipate the needs of banked and unbanked populations. For example, BlueLA, a car share program in Los Angeles offered guidance and ways for unbanked customers to open a free bank account.
Payment Structure – Have programs and systems in place in which the payment structure takes into account a user’s personal finances and a system in which application or membership fees can be waived.
Open Up Membership – Remove barriers to registering for membership for car share service.
Diverse Fleet – Have wheelchair accessible vehicles and modified vehicles for older people or persons with disabilities.
The transportation sector contributes to 29% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. This is the largest sector, of which 58% of the source is light-duty vehicles. However, carshare promotes a sharing economy in which assets and services are shared by people. Carshare is an effective way to optimize the use of a product that would normally sit idle 95% of the time.
Research shows that the annual total mobility-related life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from using carshare are reduced by 3-18%. Research also shows that one carshare vehicle has the potential to replace 5-15 vehicles on the road and that the vehicle miles traveled reduce because with carshare, users are more selective about where they need to go.
With strategic policies, planning, vehicle types, and access, carshare can be one tool to help cities reach their climate goals.
The Shared-Use Mobility Center has developed an emissions calculator for urban planners, policymakers, and others to explore shared-use mobility scenarios in cities across the United States. In this tool, variables include bikeshare, shared scooter, carshare cars, transit commuters, carpool commuters, vanpool commuters, and telecommuters.
In order to procure car share, cities may have informal bidding, an exchange of letters, a memorandum of understanding (MOU), or issue a request for proposal (RFP).
Some cities may issue a request for proposal (RFP) to engage with carshare companies and to create healthy competition in the industry. By issuing an RFP, cities have an opportunity to share their desired requirements. For example, the RFP can include requirements for:
inclusive vehicle fleet;
data sharing details;
community engagement plan;
equitable access to vehicles and charging stations;
first- and last-mile connections to public transit; and
Before operations begin and users have access to vehicles, carshare requires heavy coordination between public and private entities.
In order to select the most appropriate carshare solution, cities commonly send out an RFP, and outline baseline requirements. Substantial time may be spent by cities interviewing carshare companies and finalizing contracts.
To make car share more feasible, cities are revamping their permitting structure to accommodate car share to expedite getting carshare up and running in their cities. Examples of cities tackling their permitting process head on are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
Private car companies have started carshare companies over the years as a way to diversify their products and services. For example, GM launched Maven in 2016 and Enterprise launched Enterprise CarShare in 2008.
As discussed in this learning module, carshare provides many benefits to people and communities, and they continue to evolve and grow from challenges. In the past, some carshare programs have experienced theft and vandalism, and in some cases, have decided to end services in those cities. Carshare companies have also ceased operations in select cities citing “low adoption rates” (Source). Cities, providers, and operators have been monitoring these challenges and continue to collectively brainstorm ideas on how to overcome them.
SUMC’s carshare expert, Mary Ferguson shares “Carshare has undergone many changes in recent years, with the closure of several carshare programs before the pandemic and somewhat of a resurgence as a safe viable transportation option during the pandemic. The carshare industry has also seen more demand as traditional car rental companies and private vehicle manufacturing face high demand and low supply due to equipment shortages.
As cities and carshare companies continue to improve services to meet user needs, carshare will be an exciting mode of shared mobility to monitor. Carshare offers many benefits and it can be one of the components to a larger transportation strategy that makes cities more livable.