Saturday, November 6, 2010

Institutional Car-Sharing Takes Off!

What do the New York City Dept. of Transportation and the BMW headquarters have in common?

Both are on the cutting edge of institutions that use car-sharing, in which drivers reserve a shared fleet of vehicles for a flat administrative fee, to save both budget $ and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Car-sharing differs from traditional rental car agencies and carpooling in several ways:

  • Carsharing is not limited by office hours
  • Reservation, pickup, and return is all self-service
  • Vehicles can be rented by the minute, by the hour, as well as by the day
  • Users are members and have been pre-approved to drive (background driving checks have been performed and a payment mechanism has been established)
  • Vehicle locations are distributed throughout the service area, and often located for access by public transport.
  • Insurance and fuel costs are included in the rates.
  • Vehicles are not serviced (cleaning fueling) after each use, although certain programs such as Car2Go continuously clean and fuel their fleet
In short, car-sharing is a low-cost, low-maintenance, and low-emissions of way of getting access to cars to people only when they need it. In most cases, car-sharing has thrived in dense urban areas where access to walking, transit, and biking is widespread. For urban residents who need just the occasional one-off car trip, there is a huge cost-savings versus car ownership and the high insurance, maintenance, and purchase cost it entails.

In the US, the most successful car-sharing company has been ZipCar, which claims to remove 15-20 personal vehicles from the roads for every car-sharing vehicle it puts out and reduce an average of 5,500 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the average user. 

While individual drivers are the fuel that powers companies like ZipCar, institutions with larger user bases and even greater potential cost savings have started to catch on. This change from personal to institutional use could be the catalyst for ZipCar to become an economic engine in its own right, with a political influence to rival a Ford or a GM.

According to GOOD, New York City's Dept. of Transportation is beginning to replace its former in-house fleet with car-sharing to cut costs in the wake of the city's budget problems. About 300 department employees will share access to 25 ZipCars for work-related trips, saving the department $500,000 annually. Nearly all of the Manhattan-based cars will be Toyota Priuses. 

New York will join Washington DC and Philadelphia, where this car-sharing program has already been successful. The project will likely spread to other NYC municipal departments, further cementing the city's newfound green reputation. Mayor Bloomberg, you're all right!

According to Inhabitat, BMW is implementing a similar car-sharing program at its own headquarters in Munich, Germany. Cars will be available to all BMW employees and the general public at costs ranging from $22-45 per hour, which is not as expensive as it sounds, considering some of the available models run $100,000. If all goes well, the program could expand to all of BMW's facilities across Europe. A car-sharing platform that can rent out ANY model of Beamer any time, day or night? I could sign up for that.

What are the wider implications of institutional car-sharing? What we have long known as "the company car" may be soon obsolete, replaced with a more efficient, publicly available, and sustainable alternative.

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