Shared Mobility

Carsharing is Increasing Diversity Among Electric Vehicle Users

In 2001, the California Air Resources Board added incentives to its Zero Emission Vehicle Program to include electric vehicles (EVs) within carsharing fleets, prompting many operators and manufacturers to add these vehicles to their systems. Now that the incentives are set to expire in 2018, researchers from the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) [at the University of California, Berkeley] recently examined the impact of exposure to zero- and low-emission carsharing on user behavior and opinions.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program has been critical to curbing the number of petroleum-dependent vehicles on California’s roads by setting standards for manufacturers to meet and incentivizing consumers to purchase electric vehicles (EVs). Further, the program has offered incentives for carsharing operators to include EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) in their fleets.

With the program’s expiration on the horizon in 2018, TSRC researchers partnered with carsharing operators and vehicle manufacturers to understand who was using EVs and PHVs in carsharing and how featuring these vehicle types in carsharing fleets affects carsharing user inclinations toward them.

A fundamental hypothesis of the study was that the presence of EVs and PHVs in carsharing programs is providing access to some individuals who may not otherwise have access to them. To understand these impacts, TSRC surveyed members from four carsharing programs over a four-month period in the United States.

Surveyed members were separated into control and experimental groups; the control group was comprised of members who had not used zero- or low-emission vehicles within the last 18 months, but they were active in the program; the experimental group consisted of members who had used an EV or PHV within the last six months. Over 3,600 carsharing members completed surveys for this study.

Key findings: Using electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in carsharing programs

Approximately 25 percent of those who have used a PHV or EV through carsharing have only been exposed to these vehicles through such programs.

This means that a considerable number of individuals would not have been exposed to PHVs or EVs without carsharing, and such systems are proving to be a method for disseminating automobile technology.

Carsharing appears to be exposing more women and younger individuals to these vehicles compared to the more common demographic profile of EV or PHV owners.

A survey sponsored by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2013 found that 79 percent of PHV owners who responded were male and 71 percent were over the age of 45 (CCSE, 2014). Comparatively, TSRC’s study found that only 59 percent of respondents who had recently used a PHV or EV in carsharing were male, and only 18 percent were over the age of 45.

Exposure to PHVs and EVs through carsharing is having a positive impact on user desire to own such vehicles in the future.

As a result of using a PHV or EV in a carsharing system, the desire to own such a vehicle is either “greater” or “much greater” for more than 40 percent of respondents. Conversely, less than 5 percent felt less inclined to own a PHV or EV after using one in a carsharing program.

The impact of using electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in carsharing programs

The findings from this study support the hypothesis that carsharing programs with PHVs or EVs are exposing these vehicle technologies to people who many not otherwise be exposed to them. Further, the greater exposure by younger members is particularly notable because this could accelerate the acceptance of EV or PHV technology for future vehicle buyers. Carsharing also provides a supportive training ground for individuals learning how to operate an EV and PHV (e.g., user training, staff support, roadside support, etc.).

Carsharing programs featuring these vehicles and other sustainable technologies are valuable in spreading these technologies in the future, and this study suggests that CARB should consider incentivizing the placement of PHVs and EVs in carsharing beyond 2018, when the current Zero Emission Vehicle Program expires.

Would you prefer to own a Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) or rather use them in carsharing programs? Share your reasons for the choice in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


  • herrbremerhaven
    11. November 2015 at 19:13

    I’ve been able to use the early electric Smart, gas powered Smart, and revised electric Smart through Car2Go. The early electric version worked fine in downtown traffic, but was too slow for short highway distances, and felt a bit dangerous with regular traffic coming up fast behind it. I got to try the gas Smart in Austin, and it worked well enough in traffic, though was noticeably not as smooth as the electric. The revised electric Smart has great acceleration, making short highway merging and driving feel like any other car on the road, while still retaining the smooth power delivery. Compared to the gas powered Smart, the revised electric feels much smoother to drive, which makes it seem to be better quality.

    There are a few other things to consider. There are still many more gas stations, than there are charging terminals. Charging takes longer on electric vehicles, which means different planning for travel. Range on a full gas tank is still greater than range on a full electric charge. Other than battery replacement, it seems that maintenance costs would be far lower on an electric Smart.

    Carsharing challenges the ideas of car ownership. It’s still a bit tough to explain to people how carsharing works, and it’s a bit different than owning your own car, requiring different and more flexible travel planning. It’s far less expensive to carshare overall, though I usually hear some idea of travel freedom as a reason to own a car. If car ownership is travel freedom, then carsharing is economic freedom.

  • Rodrigo Magri
    12. November 2015 at 16:56

    I prefer to use an electric car in a car sharing program. Buying an EV in Brazil is very expensive, so it would be much easier and cheaper to use an EV by sharing it!

  • Pallavi Reddy
    13. November 2015 at 8:29

    Thank you for sharing your personal opinion rofmagri! I am aware that moving towards electric or cleaner vehicles in Brazil is difficult, but I recently read an article which talks about how Brazil is initiating various programs (such as reducing the cost of newer vehicles and increasing the number of vehicles running on electricity) to pave the way for electric vehicles. It seems very promising. What are your thoughts on these initiatives?

  • Pallavi Reddy
    13. November 2015 at 9:04

    Thank you for elaborating and for sharing your driving experience with three different versions of Smart, herrbremerhaven! I agree that most people are still not aware of how carsharing works and I also agree that it is economic freedom, but I think the biggest challenge when it comes to shared mobility is accessibility.

    For instance, if someone stays outside of the city and there are no car sharing options available nearby, people would mainly depend on their private car or maybe public transit. And in city centers, sometimes it is hard to find one especially during rush hours and also they are available only at certain locations.

    I think with better accessibility and educating customers about how the car sharing functions, how the pricing model works etc., I guess more people will be willing to try car sharing services. What do you think?

  • Susan Shaheen
    15. November 2015 at 0:12

    Dear Rofmagri,
    Thank you for sharing your opinion. This is helpful to know and reinforcing of our research.

  • Susan Shaheen
    15. November 2015 at 0:19

    Dear Herrbremerhaven,
    Thanks for your reflections on EV performance and in contrast to internal combustion engine vehicles. Carsharing and car ownership do offer different benefits. Carsharing also reinforces use of a range of multi-modal alternatives.

  • herrbremerhaven
    16. November 2015 at 5:41

    Considering the questions I get after hopping out of a Car2Go, it does seem that not many people understand carsharing. It is fairly simple, but definitely not obvious. Availability is an issue, though I enjoy walking, so I don’t mind the distance to a Car2Go. Designated parking spots definitely help, though there is not always a car in those. Street sweeping schedules creates another barrier to parking, though people who own cars have similar issues.

    Short distances do limit usage. I think usage could expand with wider area availability, though it may be tough for any company to bridge the gap to expand a user base. I’ve been reading about some other carshare programs around the world that have cut back on fleets and areas. My feeling is that more information about how carsharing works, and what it costs compared to owning a car, would increase the user base.


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