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.