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Car sharing: an idea whose time has come

By: staff

Date: Friday, 18. May 2007

You live in a large urban area, usually take public transit and pay handsomely for the privilege of keeping that shiny, late-model car parked most of the time in your driveway or garage. Does it make sense? Not so, think an increasing number of drivers who are turning to one of the latest ownership concepts-car sharing.

Started in Switzerland in the late 1980s, this radical form of public automobile ownership spread quickly to Germany and then across Europe. It is now gaining acceptance in North America. The idea is simple. Instead of individuals buying their own cars, and probably using them less than one hour a day on average, a large number of people share a small number of cars that are reserved for them and used individually as required. As a result, considerable benefits can be achieved in cost savings and reduced impact on the environment.

Good for low-mileage city dwellers

The idea certainly makes sense for people living in urban areas who drive less than 12,000 km (7,500 miles) a year and don't need a car for work every day. In fact, a study by the Swiss Office for Energy Affairs indicates that car owners who switch to car sharing reduce their driving by more than 70% without a major perceived loss of mobility.

Switzerland, in fact, now offers a standardized, high-quality service throughout the country after only 11 years. In that time, more than 900 cars have become available for use at 600 locations and there are more than 20,000 participants in the scheme.

And in Germany, the port city of Bremen has been close behind in encouraging its 550,000 inhabitants to abandon car ownership by supplementing an ultra-modern public transport system with a car-sharing scheme that allows citizens to rent a vehicle quickly at relatively low cost. Cars can be rented at 37 city locations, and may be picked up for a quick shopping trip or a weekend.

Smart cards

For about US$40, Bremen residents buy a smart card that allows drivers to make reservations and gain access to the vehicles located around the city. They have their choice of 10 car models, from subcompacts to vans. The cars recognize the smart card through a transponder field on the windshield that opens the doors. When the car is returned, a swipe of the smart card across the windshield locks the door and transmits journey data that is used for monthly billing.

A 3-hour shopping trip covering 6 miles runs about US$7, while a 2-day, 120-mile weekend excursion costs about US$85-rates considerably cheaper than those charged by car rental agencies. The city program covers all other costs, such as wear and tear, depreciation, tax, insurance, gasoline, and cleaning.

Car sharing for travelers

The convenience of car sharing in this part of the world is such that it's now possible to take the train from Zurich in Switzerland to Berlin and have a shared car waiting at a Berlin station. Drivers simply order the car through their local car sharing organization. Where smart cards are not available, outdoor safety boxes are provided at the car parks for the car keys. To make life simpler, the keys for the safety box are being standardized, so the key you use to access the safety boxes in Zurich will open them just as easily in Berlin.

The strongly growing number of car sharing organizations in Europe has led to a need for information and coordination of their political activities. This resulted in the foundation of the European Car Sharing Association in 1992. The association now represents 40 local car sharing organizations in 350 cities, most of them in Switzerland and Germany. Other nations represented include Austria and The Netherlands, but more organizations from other Western and Eastern European countries are planning to join.

Car sharing in North America

Across the Atlantic, Canada's first car sharing company was established in Quebec City in 1994 and a second one in Montreal the following year. The two companies were then merged. Since that time, similar car sharing operations have sprung up in several other major cities, including Toronto and Vancouver.

South of the border, Portland, Oregon, is one of the first U.S. cities to adopt a car-sharing program. Participants drive one of 10 Chrysler Neons or a pickup truck, scattered in leased parking spots around the city. More programs are expected soon in Seattle and Chicago.

After signing up in Portland, car share participants can reserve a vehicle for $1.50 per hour and 40 cents a mile by phoning a computerized reservation service. Those who use a car infrequently and for short trips around town see the biggest savings.

Own one, share another

Although most participants live within five blocks of a car, inconvenience is still the biggest complaint. They can usually get a car, but not always the one nearest to them. Some participants in the scheme retain their first car, but have shed their second vehicle in favor of a shared car.

Despite the western world's love affair with the automobile, concerns about the environment and the high cost of owning and running a car can only lead to an increase in the car sharing concept. For instance, a European Union study has shown that, if applied on a continental scale, such programs could reduce car mileage by as much as 20 billion miles a year. This, in turn, would curtail carbon monoxide by as much as five million tons a year.

Not only that, North American motoring organizations reckon the cost of owning and running a mid-size car is between US$4,000 and $5,000, and in Europe the costs are even higher. And that's where it really hits drivers-in the pocketbook.

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All Comments (5)

Showing 1 - 5 comments

Dusan Andrijasevic,

My dears,I wish find a any jobb in Oslo.I have a car,new ford focus,a driving licence and great experience.


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any job listing's to hire driver's for car-poller's/shopper's/ect... who don't want to drive or don't want to leave their auto at work/other places/ect...? contact me at www.EulavinWilkerson@yahoo.Com{Jan/15/2008@6:02 p.m.}


Car sharing is the way forward. In fact not having a car at all may be even better. they are sao costsly. I lost my cars keys and cant believe how much the main dealer wanted to replace them. i found tehse guys in the end theautolocksmith co uk

Loads cheaper. But if i was sharing another car would have been better lol

alvera kramer,

ineed to rent a car for one day in order to take a drivers test in lodi nj motor vehichle testing area

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