Road Closed Ahead: Why Only Second-Generation Carsharing Can Move the Car-Free-Cities Agenda

“Road Closed Ahead: Why Only Second-Generation Carsharing Can Move the Car-Free-Cities Agenda”
[Presented at the Portland (OR) Car-Free Cities Conference, late-2007]

Introduction: What Carsharing and Second-Generation Carsharing Are

Carsharing is the 20-year-old international movement in which small companies buy reliable, environmental cars that are made available to members for periods of one half-hour or more for short urban journeys, allowing the members to avoid owning a car. The rates include gas and all insurance, and cars are located at locations dispersed throughout pre-automobile areas of cities. Trips are invoiced monthly, making car-access a utility.

Second-generation carsharing doesn’t yet exist. It uses more technology to allow one-way and simultaneous share-access, and multi-stations access, so each seat and the cargo area can be separately booked. This allows for ‘hybrids’ with other shared car modes: taxi, car-rental, ridesharing, rider services, and delivery, as well as informal carsharing (between neighbours, extended family, friends, co-workers), as well as with transit and private-vehicle ownership. Collectively these are called shared access to a metered car (MASC). The current system, the one-person, one-car orientation (OPOCO), actually forces each person who wants to use the road system as now designed, to buy a car.

1. The Drive-to-Drive vs Drive to Live Locally

People are not only induced to buy a car for even a few car trips a month, but they are induced to travel the AAA average of at least 12,000 miles a year, thanks to the car’s high price and equally high fixed costs; but people who use MASC have no such minimum. By seeing the full cost of each trip, they do the opposite of car-owners: they avoid using a car unless it is really necessary. They not only chose small-footprint travel modes, but they naturally choose their home and work and other locations to minimize trip distances. Besides high fixed costs, private-car ownership induces the drive-to-drive in three other ways: the societal requirement for each driver to supply his own car means he needs to take a car around with him in case he might need one to drive; OPOCO drivers have hyper-access to car (outside the door, no reservation necessary), and OPOCO drivers end up using a vehicle much larger than necessary for the vast majority of trips, since the purchased car has to meet all expected motor-vehicle trips over a 3-5-year period (increased wealth has meant that the van and SUV is chosen so often today).

2. The Ultimate Cul-de-Sac (the Need to Address All Ten Sides of the Automobile Conundrum)

The car solutions that are on most agendas address only one or two of the ten or so dimensions of “the car problem.” None shrink the overall car population, the conditions that create congestion and sprawl, or the way cars are used. In fact, while ‘solving’ one dimension, they make others worse (what David Orr calls “problem switching.”) However, MASC does address all dimensions simultaneously. As reported by the Centre for Sustainable Transportation in 1997, car-ownership is the factor that most closely correlates with car use: “Built it and they will drive.”

3. Separating Car and Man, Car & House/Building, Insurance from Car-Owner

OPOCO results in cars inheriting the human and civil rights of their owners, despite their mechanical characteristics, their menace, and their large physical and environmental footprint. It is impossible to bar cars from areas unless the cars in question are not the personal property of the drivers, who would protest that banning “my car” is tantamount to banning “me.” All housing that is constructed has to have parking for one or more cars, only because the cars are personal property of the home owners/tenants, rather than leaving parking — as in downtowns — to the street and private market to provide (see Shoup, D. 2005 The High Cost of Free Parking). Cars are also driven in unaccountable fashion, and licenses given out too easily and are removed too rarely (and bans are almost impossible to enforce, as the banned driver still has access to his personal car, which is not removed, for obvious reasons related to “property rights”). Insurance is attached to the car-owner, not driver in most jurisdictions, making it hard for MASC to become ubiquitous, since bad drivers are left outside any carsharing regime.

4. Electric Vehicles and Car-free Neighbourhoods

The emergence of the small, light electric “neighbourhood vehicle” (NV) in golf-course communities is a sign of what all neighbourhoods could become. Many road users are banned from roads at the top of the roads hierarchy (freeways ban pedestrians, cyclists, light motorcycles, slow-moving motor vehicles, and wide loads), but neighbourhoods are not allowed to reciprocally ban the highway vehicles that are too big, too heavy, too wide, or too hard for local rights-of-way where social functions and all populations groups are encouraged to get around on their own. Removed from these threats and the needs to travel very far, vehicles can be much smaller, lighter, more open, and softer-‘exteriored’. Such vehicles shouldn’t add to the car population by becoming a second vehicle for each driver in a household, but rather simply part of a MASC mix, with households not needing any owned vehicles, except perhaps bicycles (and note that shared-bicycle schemes for one-way use are actually more common than one-way shared-car uses). [See Sperling, D. 1995 Future Driven]

5. Car Meets Technology

MASC will require continuation of a current trend in carsharing: installation of GPS (geo-positioned satellite) devices that allow cars to self-locate, GMS telecommunication to communicate with the fleet owner’s base, and sophisticated reservation systems that mediate the sharing with on-line information about where each car is and which ones are not yet committed within a certain time-window. On-the-go members will be able to use their phone for all this. It could allow cars to be “station-free,” allowing one-way trips to be plotted, so that as soon as a car arrives at a destination, it is available to another user (incidentally reducing greatly the parking needs of even current carsharing programs, except in low-use periods like overnight, see Safdie M. 1997 The City After the Automobile). It could also allow for individual seats and the cargo area to be booked separately, so that ridesharing (like shared taxis) could be accommodated. And in an age where various systems of “road/congestion pricing” are actively being discussed, a MASC regime would offer a much cheaper and more reliable way for government to assess and collect the fees (after all, the fleet owner’s fee schedule will also reflect amount and time of use, anyway).

6. Rejuvenating/Redefining Transit through Carsharing ‘Hybrids’

By breaking down car-access to its smallest component, the seat-minute, carsharing can be mixed-and-matched with other modes, including private-car ownership. Ridesharing can become more demand-responsive and flexible, and thus dovetail with transit, not unlike a hitchhiking service (the system will record the identity of all occupants, and the person picked up will be charged for their ride). Carsharing can also add a “valet” service, and thus become a taxi-carshare hybrid. Carshare vehicles can be used for workday ridesharing, so that the cars can also meet individual trip demands (personal or business) during the workday, and also similar demands in a far-removed suburban residential community evenings and weekends. Delivery services can also be mixed with shared uses. MASC providers can even offer car-ownership services, in which they could both help with maintenance, insurance, and purchase responsibilities, and offer market unused time in the car to its members.

7. A New Car Industry; New Roads

As a result, the car industry will change. Besides the decline in sales volume (estimated that only one out of five cars will be needed to meet the existing population’s trips requiring a car), variety in vehicle types, sizes, and interior utilization will grow, while variations in colour, amenities, etc. will decline. Fleet buyers will also emphasize reliability, economy, and ease-of-repair more than individual drivers (e.g., design of Paris’ Velib shared bikes). The NV market won’t require the regulatory control by national governments (rationalized by safety and environmental concerns), and therefore will be ideal for devolution to urban markets, with local manufacturers/assemblers selling to neighbourhood shared-NV companies. With vehicles having user-ID readers and other sensors, drivers who have lost licenses or are impaired will be physically banned for starting the engine (to compensate, such people will also — like children, the disabled, and the elderly — have much better access to rides-on-demand, thanks to MASC). Collision reconstruction will become much more practical, as it will be possible to track paths of vehicles before impact, as well as identify who was behind the wheel. There will also be no “rights” issue over access to the vehicles’ ‘black boxes.’

Conclusion: With MASC as an intermediate form of car-access, cars as we know them will become a dying market in cities, while transit will enter a new golden age, not to mention improving the quality of life for those now essentially banned from city streets for their own safety: PED-CIVs (poor, elderly, disabled, children, ill, visitors).

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