“How Carsharing Can Reduce the ‘Drive to Drive’ and Improve Walkability” (WALK 21, 2007
“How Carsharing Can Reduce the ‘Drive to Drive’ and Improve Walkability”
By Chris Bradshaw, Ottawa, Canada
Abstract: The Kyoto Accord has brought a new wave of scrutiny to the private automobile. But it is focusing us on only one of the car’s impacts: emissions. The car problem, however, as walking advocates know, is much broader and more profound. What the author addresses in this paper, is how the sharing of cars, as opposed to our regime of private ownership, can achieve dramatically greater walkability by effecting changes in many areas that are usually ignored: how cars are used and how they are designed, both of which are influenced by the form of car-access.
The potential of turning away from the current One-Person, One-Car Orientation (OPOCO) will evoke protestations. “People love their cars!” Since society provides shared rights-of-way but leaves car-access up to the individual, we have created a feast-or-famine proposition in which there are too many cars, the cars are poorly utilized, and they are much larger than the vast majority of trips require. In the last 15 years carsharing has joined taxis, car-rental, and ridesharing as ways to share cars: together I call them Metered Access to Shared Cars (MASC). They jointly represent a way to not only greatly reduce peak demands for both roads and parking lots – which increases sprawl – but to make the way cars are driven more pedestrian-friendly.
MASC reduces OPOCO’s “drive to drive” by: a) shifting costs from fixed to variable, eliminating car-owners’ efforts to do extra driving to amortize $6000-12,000/year invariable costs, while making the whole cost of each trip more readily apparent; b) having shared cars everywhere people need to be so they don’t have to take a car around everywhere just to have one available if the need arises; and c) increasing the “fuss” of car access by requiring a short walk and some planning. MASC also reduces the amount of car – weight, power, rigidness of its shell – used for each trip by making the vehicle choice a trip-by-trip decision, rather once-every-five-year decision.
MASC brings into play many driving/vehicle factors that walkability debates usually ignore, specifically the five Fs: how Frequent/Far, Fast, and “Fazed/Frantically” the vehicle is driven, and how “Fat” and “Filthy” the vehicle being driven is. The paper shows how each is reduced when MASC is used, primarily through reducing sprawl, increasing scrutiny of driver behaviour by the provider, and allowing for the introduction pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood vehicles (NVs) in place of standard highway-friendly cars.
Because most MASC vehicles are equipped with GPS readers, as well as scheduling and tracking software, sharing – both consecutive and simultaneous – becomes practical. The author sees carsharing and ridesharing merging first to introduce it to suburban neighbourhoods and business parks where carsharing is non-existent and ridesharing is very limited. He offers 11 additional actions that will bring about a new form of car-access and a new environment for walking, hopefully in time to shape the form of the “automobilization” of Asia, Africa, and South America.
Chris Bradshaw is a retired municipal planning official who has been active in walking advocacy since 1980 and carsharing entrepreneurship since 2000. He presented twice at the Boulder International Pedestrian conferences, 1988 & 1993. He is former leader of the Green Party of Canada. He lives ‘car-lite’ in downtown Ottawa with his wife of 38 years.
“How Carsharing Can Reduce the ‘Drive to Drive’ and Improve the Walking Environment.”
By Chris Bradshaw, email@example.com
“There’s something odd about cities; we park on our driveways and drive on our parkways.” Anon.
We are here to find a more effective way to improve “walkability.” We’ve ignored the car, how it’s designed, accessed, and used. This examination is practical, now that carsharing has arrived, challenging us to envision a world without privately-owned cars.
I. DRIVING WITHOUT A CAR
Cities create wealth by reducing distances between people to allow for much more social contact, more transmittal of knowledge, and more invention and collaboration. They depend on macro-transportation to link them to resources and to each other, but must have truly micro-transportation internally. The automobile is neither, being ill-suited for either; it is more practical for rural living, as it was originally marketed.
Transportation modes reflect a “green hierarchy” that matches modes to the appropriate trips, to ensure efficient utilization of space and resources. The shorter trips require the small-footprint modes of walking and cycling (Bradshaw 1992b). Longer trips, which are planned further in advance and can pool demand from many more travellers, can be made by “common carrier” (transit, train, bus, air). It is not surprising that the expensive automobile has been marketed as the mode for all trips; it may be better than any other single mode, but it is never the best mode for any specific trip type. As a result, it violates the hierarchy, making its role in transportation unsustainable. This is not only because of advertising, but because society has accepted the concept that each traveler should provide his own vehicle, rather than having it provided as part of the road system, which would reduce the “car population” and reduce its use significantly.
II. THE PROBLEMS CREATED BY PRIVATE CAR OWNERSHIP
We are all accustomed to the car being criticized, but primarily for its emissions. I am focusing on the requirement that, in order to drive even a couple times a week, a driver must own his own car. Yes, except in small pre-automobile pockets in larger cities, ownership of the “freedom machine” is not optional for a reasonable quality of life. Driving has been saddled by enough responsibility, but ownership add several more: providing a “home” for the car, following the car and insurance markets, and knowing enough about how they work to oversee maintenance and repairs. Despite the high private cost of this, there are other costs the owners do not pay. Government subsidies for health care, roads, and oil-resource protection cover some of them; but the largest of all is the “free” parking included in the price of goods and services (Shoup 2005). When we hear the phrase, “people love their car,” we are only hearing that our relationship with the car is one of inter-dependency, rooted in the days when the noble horse was the means of “automobility.”
The car market is also a product of the requirement for private ownership, making sure the car is appealing to literally billions of individual drivers, in contrast to the utilitarian market for commercial vehicles. Cars need to be functional and safe, but also emotionally appealing. They have to be porous enough so the driver can interact with others, but also shut out the “elements.” Advertising rarely mentions their utility or even suggests they be used “responsibly,” but alludes mostly to the power and status they confer. The typical driving environment is rarely depicted.
The alternative to not owning a car is growing more and more impractical, given typical travel distances in ever-sprawling cities. Car rental is the most widespread, but is not practical, since minimum rental periods are 24-hours, while over 95% of trips are under 10 hours. As more and more people yield to the reality that ownership is the only practical choice, transit service declines as fares increase, even with growing public subsidies. Sadly, walking and cycling are degraded by their vulnerability and the hurrying that drivers do.
III. INTRODUCTION TO CARSHARING AND M.A.S.C. & O.P.O.C.O.
In the last 15 years, carsharing has emerged and gone global. It is close to what all car-access would be today if, from the beginning, the car was made available as the telephone was: rented, minimal, and attached to the network it depended on. Carsharing is somewhat like car rental, but allows cars to be accessed for periods as short as an hour, and the cars are located at scattered “pods” within mostly mixed-use, city centre neighbourhoods. Rates include gas and all insurance. Over 1 million people around the world now use this alternative to replace their only car, and in a few cases, a second car. It has become the first form of car-access that challenges car-ownership itself. Although it still is used mostly for SOV (single-occupant vehicle) trips, its fare structure pre-empts daily commuting. The sharing not only reduces peak demand on the roads, but the demand for parking. Because carsharing, along with ridesharing and taxis, meets the need for trips under 10 hours in duration, they make car-ownership unnecessary in their service areas.
Since people who carshare also use rentals (for out-of-town trips), taxis (for emergencies, for one-way trips, and to get to a destination for a longish stay), and ridesharing for commuting, it is useful to think of these four “car-lite” options – along with “informal carsharing” between friends, neighbours, and extended family – as a “suite.” I call this MASC, or Metered Access to a Shared Car. I juxtapose this to OPOCO, the status-quo One-Person, One-Car Orientation.
IV. WHAT INDIVIDUAL CAR-OWNERSHIP DOES TO CAR USE AND CHOICE
Think about car-ownership a bit more. Although there is nothing wrong with private ownership per se, in the case of the car it is not practical or necessary. When it becomes a “personal” item, it becomes something we carry around with us not because we need it, but because we might need it. For MASC users, “my car” is fits in a pocket: a key or electronic fob or card give them access – usually after a reservation is made – to a car wherever, whenever it is needed. This is Lesson One about private car ownership.
Lesson Two is that OPOCO creates such a large “population” of cars, that it greatly increases the chance for over-populating a particular section of road or a particular parking lot. In these cases, congestion or overflow ensues. To reduce this likelihood, planners and business owners oversize these facilities – at great expense to the economy, to the public purse, and to the environment all citizens have to use it to get around.
In contrast, MASC allows cities to limit the motor vehicles to the number which it can easily handle, the number that will fit on its people-friendly streets and will allow it to achieve its ideal density and mix of uses, rather than adapting the latter to the “car needs” of its population. And since the fleet is shared, there is no problem with unequal treatment: everyone has, like Goldilocks, just enough car-access. Most practical under MASC, during peak hours, most cars will be used in ridesharing mode; citizens will know that SOV use at peak hours is very expensive and discouraged. At other hours, the sharing will be consecutive, rather than simultaneous. When you think about it, it is better and more practical if congestion occurs where cars are accessed, rather than on the road where there is no way to adjust to the congestion, leaving all road users to suffer.
Lesson Three is that the motivation to drive is changed completely with MASC. The average 18,000 kms a year each private car is used – the same amount incurred by the cars shared in carsharing organizations with 20-35 others – reflects a lot of driving done, not only to make it “handy,” but to justify ownership’s high fixed costs: depreciation, finance charges, insurance, regular maintenance, the provision of home-based, off-road storage between trips, and registration fees. This is a very potent form of “cognitive dissonance,” behaviour motived by the effort to justify the 80-90% of car costs that don’t vary with time of occupancy or distance driven. OPOCO is a feast-or-famine situation. Either you have a car, in which case you have much more access than is necessary, or you have no car, and have too little. You are either a car “glutton” or a “car pauper.”
In contrast, MASC users pay no or very minimal fixed costs. The full cost of each use is readily apparent in the charge for each use. As a result, they look for ways to use a car less, unlike OPOCO users who do the opposite. Another way MASC users are deterred from using these services is that each access requires a reservation and a 5-7-minute walk on both ends of each use. In contrast OPOCO exalts in providing immediate, next-to-the-kitchen-door access. OPOCO drivers are rarely more 100 metres away from their car at any time of the day.
Lesson Four is the “fit” of the vehicle to the trip. OPOCO forces people into choosing a car that fits all their trips for the duration of the loan or lease (4-5 years). This means that the vehicle will be sized for a small number of atypical rather than a large number of typical ones. Vans can be “environmental,” but only when fully utilized. Also, demand over that period of time is hard to predict. “Will I still be working at XX?” “Will I still be single?” “Will I still have a friend who has a cottage?” Will I still be playing in the ultimate frisbee league? In stark contrast, MASC users can pick the right vehicle for each trip, even using delivery services from time to time.
Lesson Five is that MASC users are more scrutinzed. Since they are shared and their use charged for, their availability and location must be closely tracked, often with GPS (geo-positional satellites) devices. And because they are valuable, access is provided only to those meeting higher standards than public licensing authorities require. And finally, since MASC vehicles are owned by a professional fleet operator, they are better maintained. The cost of all this is not that onerous, since it is shared by 20-35 people sharing each car on average (Ottawa’s Vrtucar has 33 cars and 650 member-drivers).
V. THE TWO SIDES OF WALKABILITY:
Walkability has focused mostly on the built environment, on streets and sidewalks, on siting of buildings, and on the design of parks and parking lots. But I want to introduce the idea that vehicles and the way they are accessed are equally as much a part of the built environment, even though they are not, now, under any local controls (although that may change with MASC). To imagine the MASC world of the future, consider the massive new ‘Velib’ shared-bike program recently started in Paris with 22,000 bikes and almost 1000 stations, tracked by high-tech devices and electronic membership-access (Boston Globe, July 16, 2007). No one seems to think that bike sharing is either odd or impractical; so why would sharing cars be any more so?
1. Car-Related Walkability:
We all acknowledge that car use inhibits walking for others. But what are the dimensions of this? I have broken the car’s impact on pedestrians (and cyclists) into five F adjectives: far/frequent (trips), fast (driving), frantically/fazed (driver state of mind), “fat” (the vehicle), and filthy (the vehicle’s footprint). I discuss how MASC improves all of these:
How Far/Frequent – These two factors control the amount of driving being done. MASC users naturally favour closer destinations, and over time will relocate to neighbourhoods that given them “locational efficiency,” especially daily commuting. The shorter the trip, the more modal choices there are. By stripping the OPOCO-stimulated “need” to drive, well over 50% of driving will disappear immediately, and continue to decline over time. Carsharers, for instance, don’t drive to their neighbourhood centre, since that is where most “pods” are located. UC’s Transportation Center shows a 58% decrease in distance driven by users within two years of joining (Sheehan 2001, p123).
How Fast – There are several ways slower driving might occur with a MASC future: a) drivers are more scrutinized by the vehicle owners, possibly including GPS-linked speed governors on all vehicles; b) the lack of congestion will reduce pent-up frustration that induces drivers to try to “make up” for time lost in heavy traffic; and c) MASC will open up the possibility of introducing slower NVs (neighbourhood vehicles), which I will discuss later.
3. How “Frantic/Fazed” – Besides speed, the driver’s state-of-mind is a factor. Collisions and near-misses occurs when drivers are aggressive, drowsy, or distracted by non-driving activities or roadside events. MASC drivers are accountable to MASC owners, wanting to maintain their access to a very economic system, and realizing that the MASC fleet owners is providing an aid in keeping them alive and well.
4. How “Fat” – I have already discussed the OPOCO imposes larger, more powerful, and more “amenitied” vehicles than MASC would require. But thanks to local authorities’ ability to set standards, the vehicles used in cities can be more pedestrian-friendly on the outside, with a far softer “skin” than European countries are requiring for cars.
5. How Filthy – MASC allows new, cleaner technologies to be phased in more quickly, for maintenance to be higher, and for older models to be phased out before they become very inefficient and dangerous, thanks to their smaller number and the fact that costs are shared by many more people.
It should be noted that MASC presents a way to easily introduce “green taxes” such as pay-as-you-go insurance, road pricing, and to inhibit bad driving and to keep dangerous drivers off the road.
B. Place-Related Walkability
In addition to addressing these driving/vehicle factors in walkability, MASC will also improve the traditional place-oriented walkability factors (Bradshaw 1993):
1. A Foot-friendly Environment.
MASC’s lower use of cars will allow return to the more “crossable” streets: a maximum of two lanes of traffic and two lanes of parked cars as buffers. This will allow for parking to return to streets – which might be enough parking for the diminished car population – which is provides for a superior walking environment for the users of parking, especially those more vulnerable. Street parking should make way, at corners, for ‘bulb-outs’ that reduce crossing distances and provide pedestrian waiting areas, giving pedestrians a better view of approaching motor traffic.
2. Useful Destinations within Walking Distance
The second element, having destinations within walking distance, is taken care of via the How Far/Frequently section above.
3. A Friendly Natural Environment that Moderates Weather
Narrower roads and fewer driveways will increase foliage and pervious green surfaces, greatly reducing toxic run-offs (not to mention the dripping oil that gets on the bottom of shoes).
4. A Vibrant Local Street Life
The final element of walkability is a local culture that values walking and the informal socialization and communality of sidewalks, parks, and even the social uses of indoor spaces, as so lovingly described by William Whyte (1990) and Ray Oldenburg (1993). Governments, by supporting automobility through OPOCO, are really hurting their society’s sharing of spaces, culture, and ultimately fates. OPOCO tends to turn public spaces into corridors to transport private capsules carrying isolated from those around them. When people populate public areas on foot, they become the “eyes” that provides natural surveillance (Jacobs 1963). On a practical level, any activity that increases the number of pedestrians and people using their front yards will inhibit traffic impacts further.
VI. HOW LIKELY WILL M.A.S.C. BECOME REALITY?
I have based this talk on a simple but profound shift in the form of car-access that I believe will become prevalent. I have based it on my own experience as a carshare user and provider. I have also based it on our household’s use of three forms of MASC during the last 12 and a half years we have lived without a car. We use these for less than 5% of our trips, with transit constituting maybe another 5%. The total cost of our transportation, including bicycle and extra shoe wear-and-tear costs, averages only about $100 a month. The last car we owned had fewer than 80,000 kms (50,000 miles) after 10 years.
But how realistic is my vision? Can it come about spontaneously and quickly enough to save the planet and our local communities and our family and personal health? Or will it take a great deal of public and private arm-twisting, similar to what governments shameless engaged in during the rise of OPOCO? Carsharing’s prospects were the subject of a TRB study (Nelson-Nygaard 2005).
Globally, the situation is very dire. Those living in the Third World are just embracing OPOCO, which will decimate the dense and vibrant cities of Africa, Asia, and South America, and will introduce a deeper form of “transportation poverty” than we see here.
VII. Action Agenda
The first area of action is to create hybrids of the various separate MASC modes – carsharing, taxis, car-rental, and ridesharing – to begin creating a unified service that is fully integrated with transit.
1. Carshare vehicles should be used for ridesharing to get carsharing into the suburbs, which will give it new respect. Ride/carsharing will also provide carsharing services at isolated workplaces, so that all workers who come by alternative modes are not “car-less” for the nine hours a day they are there. The ridesharing itself will be better by relieving users from having to provide a car, or dependent on a single driver when that person is sick or on vacation. At night and weekends, the MASC vehicles will be available in suburban neighbourhoods evenings, allowing many families to get rid of one of their household cars.
2. Provision of car-ownership assistance services. Those who find car-ownership responsibilities too onerous, including buying and servicing a vehicle (and occasionally getting a loaner car), might be drawn to a company that does this for them. The company could also do home transportation audits (HTAs) to help people manage their use of all modes better, as well as to understand “location efficiency” in decision-making. Some customers might want to offer their car for sharing on the carsharing organization’s booking service.
3. U-Drive taxi services could fill a gap between taxi and carsharing. Most taxi customers can drive, so these people would save money if a “valet” simply jockeyed shared cars between one user and the next, using a folding electric bike or scooter to reach the next vehicle.
4. Cars could become micro transit vehicles, with users who want to save money by sharing their vehicle simultaneously, assigned by the system via a dashboard screen. It is similar to shared taxi programmes offered by some cities at suburban train stations, except that the driving will be done by one or more of the participants. MASCs, by knowing each user’s route, could accept commitments for willing drivers (in return for lower rates) to pick up other members at standard pick-up points on their route.
5. Rural areas could introduce MASC now. Rural areas are usually too small to support any of the various MASC modes, let alone transit. The town council could call for bids for an operator to introduce a fleet of shared vehicles that could provide the full gamut of services, including delivery. A five-passenger car is the perfect size to satisfy the small demand for different services that such small centres generate.
Senior government needs to play a role, too:
6. Car insurance needs to be re-oriented. The current regime, which makes car insurance the responsibility of the car-owner, not the driver, should be changed. This will allow for more flexibility, including recognizing the amount of car-rental use that takes place. It also will have elements of pay-as-you-drive insurance, that many environmentalists are proposing, but ensuring each driver’s rate reflects their risk rating. This would enable carsharing to be offered at hotels and inns, itself a legitimate outgrowth of ecotourism.
7. R&D needs to be carried out to develop traffic management and trip-planning software for a whole metropolitan area. This will allow for better management of flows along with better access to shared vehicles, with less down-time (which translates into higher parking loads). This will take “intelligent highways” and “highway information systems” much further than is possible with OPOCO.
8. Neighbourhood vehicles and City vehicles should be permitted. Federal governments have justified a top-down role in car-design and states and provinces their role in road design for safety reasons. But it inhibits MASC and prevents on-the-ground experiments in designing pedestrian-friendly local environments. The main limitation for the use of really small, light, even open-cabin golf-cart type vehicles is their vulnerability in collisions, and their lower speeds for causing “conflicts” with faster vehicles. Senior governments simply won’t allow these benign vehicles. MASC can allow local authorities to determine their favoured vehicle types, and introduce lower speed limits that respect the preference for walking and equality in transportation, and setting a limit on the size of vehicles on residential and shopping streets. To tourists and those coming from the suburbs, municipal officials will be able to say, “don’t bring your car; we’ll provide one (for a small charge) if you need one while you’re here” (not dissimilar to the wild-west town’s rule about checking your gun, an equally dangerous tool, when arriving).
Municipalities need to be given a bigger role. First, their powers need to be increased and recognized constitutionally, so they can’t be tampered with over time. Second, they need to be able to introduce revenue-neutral “green taxes,” and to share some decision-making with neighbourhoods.
9. Revive the corner store as the “DePoTs” (delivery and point of transfer, Bradshaw, 1992). Corner stores should be given a new lease on life by adding the following functions: a) receipt of all mail (including mail-order shipments) for the residents and businesses located nearby, along with facilities to check out received items before accepting them (which will reduce fraud while allowing returned items to be professional repacked), b) a recycling area to reduce costs of pick-up and to improve sorting, c) a tool/utensil “library”, and d) a place to get prepared food when parents with messed-up schedules can’t do it. DePoTs will allow children to help with shopping, and offer teens new local job opportunities, not to mention allowing, in suburbs where there are few of them now, seniors with corner lots to convert their double garage to such a use.
10. Return streets to their slower, more convivial status of decades ago. The Dutch ‘woonerfs’ have stimulated other ideas that are finding willing implementers: a) “Complete streets” returns main streets to balanced multi-modal uses, b) “naked streets” drop all formal controls and segregation of modes, c) “yield streets” (Duany et. al. 2000), forces drivers to share a lane with on-coming traffic (requiring them to pull over when passing any other motor vehicle), d) “street reclaiming” (Engwicht 1999) urges people to extend their living areas into the streets adjacent to their property, and e) “side lanes” to connect cul-de-sacs and crescents to make walking and cycling easier (Bradshaw 1999).
11. Encourage MASC and infilling by limiting parking and charging off-street parking providers through property taxes surcharges. Parking is part of the investment that car-owners (and their employers) try to recover by “pushing” driving. This in turn makes higher densities and non-residential uses unpopular to locals. But new development that increases population and jobs, if they “balance” a neighbourhood, actually can reduce motor traffic, by ensuring that more trips can be satisfied locally, and therefore on foot. This is called transportation-reducing development (TRD, Bradshaw, 1998).
12.Finally, we need to create an institute where car use and ownership will be studied and questioned. To my knowledge, there is no government, university, or private centre that looks into such matters as I have here. Few cities count parking spaces or can model alternative scenarios like the one I have proposed. Keith Bradsher (2003) is one of the few than found research on why people buy SUVs and minivans. The emotional needs car-use and ownership seem to satisfy also needs attention (Bradshaw 1997)
Even if you don’t buy my MASC vision, this paper should at least have gotten you thinking in a deeper way about car-access and walking.
“The Only Good Car is a Shared Car.”
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(1992a) “The Walk ‘n Roll City” (Second Car-Free Cities Conference, Toronto);
(1992b) “The Green Transportation Hierarchy”, for Greenprint and Ottawalk, http://www.ncf.ca/ip/community.associations/ottawalk/pospap/gr_hier.txt
(1993) “Creating and Using a Neighbourhood Walkability Index” (International Pedestrian
Conference, Boulder, CO);
(1997) “Using Our Feet to Reduce Our ‘Footprint’” [Local Environment, Vol. 1, #2]
(1998) “Travel-Reducing Development”, ORSA Quarterly, Vol. 7, #2, Ottawa
(1999) “Remaking the Suburbs for All Seasons”, ORSA Quarterly, Vol 8, #2
Bradsher, Keith (2003) High and Mighty, p. 51
Duany, Andres et. Al. (2000) Suburban Nation, p 204
Engwicht, David (1999) Street Reclaiming
Jacobs, Jane (1963) The Death & Life of Great American Cities
Nelson-Nygaard (2005) Carsharing: Where and How It Succeeds (TCRP Report 108)
Oldenburg, Ray (1993) The Great Good Place
Sheehan, Susan (2001), UCBerkeley Transportation Centre, UCTC No. 468
Shoup, Donald (2005) The High Cost of Free Parking, p. 6
Whyte, William H. (1990) City: Rediscovering the Center
[Starting place on the web: http://www.carsharing.net]