The expansion of car sharing is visibly changing the transportation landscape in urban areas. While car sharing programs have existed since the ’90s, they have grown considerably in recent years.
Last year, commercial car sharing membership in the United States rose by 34 percent to more than 1.3 million members, up from less than a million in the previous year. The nation’s commercial car share fleet grew to more than 19,000 vehicles in 2014, an increase of more than 2,300 vehicles from 2013.[*]
The growing popularity of car sharing should come as no surprise, since automobiles are unlikely to be replaced anytime in the foreseeable future as the “personal vehicle” of choice. For Generation Y consumers, in particular, affordability and high operational and maintenance costs are enough to dissuade many from owning a vehicle, making car sharing programs an attractive alternative.
There is no question that consumers have been the primary beneficiaries of car sharing services. The question facing urban planners is what role car sharing could play in advancing public policy goals such as congestion reduction, lowering the number of traffic accidents, improving air quality, and reducing the urban footprint required for parking.
Estimating car sharing’s potential public policy benefits
To understand the public policy benefits that could be achieved from increased car sharing, neighborhoods across the US were identified where car sharing is likely to be feasible, using established criteria for where car sharing works and where it does not while also accounting for ongoing improvements to car sharing business models and efficiency that are increasing its reach.
Then the likely potential car sharing members in each of those neighborhoods were calculated, and it was estimated how many cars they would shed and how many fewer miles they would drive daily annually if they were to join a car share program. Here is the result:
• Reduced vehicle ownership: In the United States, it can be estimated that car sharing could reduce nationwide vehicle ownership by nearly 2.1 million vehicles, or slightly more than 1 percent of the total number of vehicles in the United States in 2013, according to the Census Bureau.
• Savings to consumers: The potential annual savings from car sharing is projected to reach a ceiling of $4.3 billion annually. These savings would come from different sources. Drivers who become car share members would eventually save $1.4 billion in direct vehicle maintenance and upkeep costs as they reduce their own driving. Commuters nationwide would benefit from reduced congestion, avoiding $185 million worth of wasted fuel and $2.2 billion in time delay.
• Savings to cities: Cities would save $366 million in annual deferred road construction costs, $77 million in accident avoidance, and $36 million in savings from almost 1 million metric tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
Estimated economic impacts of car sharing by metro area
Of course not all cities would benefit equally from increased car sharing. The largest, most densely populated cities stand to gain the most from increased car sharing (see table below for savings projections by metro area).
The New York City metro area, for example, could reduce its vehicle population by almost three percent if car sharing were fully implemented, and could potentially see car sharing membership as high as 13.2 percent of all commuters.
Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reductions from these new car sharers could lead to $1.4 billion in annual savings to New York City and its commuters, including $127 million in deferred annual road construction costs. Chicago, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Boston are not far behind in their car sharing potential.
The potential savings table and the accompanying map, which explore the mobility potential of individual neighborhoods within larger census tracts, can be consulted to understand the benefits other US metropolitan areas could reap from expanding car sharing.
Share your experience: Do you travel more or less with car sharing as a mobility option? What role does owning a private vehicle play for you?
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.