Friday, October 15, 2010

Throwing off the car shackles

An ever growing number of commuters are trying to find alternatives to owning their own vehicle. As a result, car sharing is being explored more and more as an option. Car sharing consists of borrowing vehicles only as needed. Users pick up and drop off any one of a fleet of vehicles at selected locations within a certain area. One pays typically by the hour, which covers all costs including gasoline, insurance, maintenance and parking.

The for-profit ZipCar option is already fairly well known. There's plenty of stuff on it online at their site, a Wikipedia article, but there are Co-op car sharing setups as well. They're similar, but usually charge an annual fee + hourly/daily rates in combination with rates per kilometre. A Coop in Vancouver charges a one-time membership fee of $500, plus some additional nominal fees, then $3 an hour or $36 a day, plus 40 cents per km for the first 35 km, 25 cents per km up to 150 km, and 15 cents per km thereafter. Here's a site where a Toronto Coop is compared against ZipCars.

How does the cost of car sharing compare to the cost of owning your own car? In one example I came across, it's about $500 per month – $200 to finance / purchase, $100 for insurance, $100 for fuel and about $100 for maintenance. That doesn't include vehicle depreciation and parking fees. The monthly cost for members of the Cooperative Auto Network works out to an average of $117. Research shows that an average car owner who drives 20,000kms per year can save about $2000 by using car-sharing instead of owning. More if they drive less than 20,000kms.

Now the downside. Cars have to be picked up and dropped off at a pre-agreed time at locations that may not be close by. Worse, the cars sit idle while the user is doing their thing, maybe for hours at a time - while you still pay. You typically pay for a full hour even if you use a car for only 15 minutes. The biggest efficiency flaw of all - the cars are not usually shared by multiple members travelling the same route.

Enter Daimler’s recent program called Car2Go and Car2gether. Car2Go began in Ulm, Germany in 2008 and in Austin, Texas in 2009. The first Car2Go vehicles are Smart cars (owned by Daimler). Car2Go members pay by the minute. In the US, it’s 35 cents a minute (plus tax) and a maximum of $12.99 per hour (plus tax) and no more than $65.99 per day (plus tax). (Mileage above 150 miles is charged 45 cents per mile).

One big advantage of Car2Go is that you don't have to return the vehicle to the starting point. You can leave the vehicle in any valid street parking space in Austin (for free). This means one-way trips to a destination, without having to pay for the car while idle, then pick up another vehicle to finish the journey. GPS locators built into every car enable Car2Go to locate and publish each car’s location on the web.

Daimler will also provide 3,000 electric Smart cars as part of the largest car-sharing project in the world, in Paris. AutoLib will involve 1,000 charging stations around the city and is scheduled to begin in 2011.

The Car2Go program in Ulm, Germany has the 200 Smarts in the city rented up to 1,000 times per day by 15,000 customers. Ulm has a population of 120,000. 90 per cent of the participants take advantage of the ability to book the car spontaneously and for one-way trips.

Even better, a new feature of Car2Go is the ability for passengers to seek drivers, and drivers to seek passengers who are travelling to the same area. Drivers and passengers register on the web to create a profile with their photo, cell number etc. It's free, and registrants can even use an app for their smart phone. Drivers or passengers enter their desired time and destination and Car2gether coordinates rides offered and wanted and sends details of suitable drivers and passengers to the user.

No comments: