One-way carsharing is a rapidly growing shared mobility option with hopes to reduce driving and vehicle ownership while providing affordable mobility. Where does one-way carsharing fit into the evolving shared mobility landscape?
Carsharing is an innovative shared mobility strategy that allows for short-term access to a shared vehicle fleet without the costly burden of vehicle ownership. A rapidly emerging model within carsharing is one-way carsharing (also known as point-to-point carsharing), which does not require users to return a vehicle to the same location from which it was accessed, thus allowing users to make one-way trips.
Technology has played a major role in the growth of one-way carsharing, including mobile apps, keyless vehicle access, in-vehicle and mobile global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and electric vehicles (EVs). These technologies allow for self-service vehicle access on a 24-hour basis for short-term trips. Yet, one-way carsharing presents unique challenges, such as vehicle rebalancing and parking management.
Early one-way carsharing systems
One-way carsharing began in Europe in the 1970s through experimental programs, but ceased operations a few years later due to technological limitations and a lack of governmental support. One-way services resurfaced in the late-1990s. A fleet of self-service electric cars launched in 1993 in La Rochelle, France, now the longest operating electric vehicle carsharing project, which exists today as a one-way carsharing program and continues to receive governmental support for its operations.
Pilot programs began in the U.S. in 1999, with the launch of CarLink, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It facilitated one-way trips between public transit stations and home or work. It ceased operations in 2003 after being transitioned to a for-profit carsharing company due to cost recovery concerns and limited scale. Both the University of California (UC), Riverside and UC Irvine piloted one-way carsharing around their respective campuses.
Since the 1970s, many carsharing business models and advanced technologies have been tested. Despite many successful projects that were well received, many ceased operations, mainly due to economic viability concerns, underuse, and insufficient technologies. However, with the recent success of roundtrip carsharing and other shared mobility modes, one-way carsharing is poised for notable growth.
Current state of one-way carsharing
Today, one-way carsharing reflects two main models: 1) free-floating carsharing and 2) station-based carsharing. Free-floating services enable shared vehicles to be picked up and dropped off anywhere within a designated operating area, while station-based carsharing requires users to return the vehicle to any designated station.
As of July 2014, there were approximately 17 one-way carsharing operators with programs in ten countries. Automakers are dominant players in the industry, including several European manufacturers who are prominent one-way carsharing operators. Moreover, one-way carsharing operations represented almost one-quarter of North American carsharing fleets, and over 24 percent of members had access to those vehicles.
Americas’ carsharing operator survey
A 2015 study surveyed roundtrip and one-way operators in the Americas to understand their perspectives on one-way carsharing and its future. Half of operators mentioned fundamental differences between the business models (for example, point-to-point vs. roundtrip), and 46 percent noted one-way’s more flexible use as key differences.
Almost 70 percent of roundtrip operators viewed one-way carsharing as a complement to roundtrip carsharing, while 19 percent viewed it as a competitor. Twelve percent perceived it as both a complement and competitor.
Operators believe that one-way carsharing will continue to grow over the next decade, but it will focus on metropolitan areas, similar to the proliferation of roundtrip carsharing. Moreover, respondents pointed to growing investment from auto manufacturers, which may further spur innovation and growth. The top innovations mentioned to spur future growth were: integration with public transit, smartcard usage, and incorporating EVs into the vehicle fleet.
One-way carsharing’s future
Over the past five years, one-way carsharing has played a growing role in cities. One-way carsharing may prove to be a suitable complement to roundtrip carsharing, public transit, and other shared mobility modes. One-way carsharing can continue to grow through supportive public policies, use of mobile technologies, and its unique cost structure and flexibility or convenience.
The impacts of one-way carsharing, however, are only beginning to be documented. Future research should evaluate one-way carsharing’s potential impact on vehicle miles/kilometers traveled (VMT/VKT), auto ownership, and emissions in urban areas, as well as its impact on cities, parking, and first- and last-mile connections to public transit.
Would you prefer a free-floating or a station-based carsharing service? Share your opinion in our comment section.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.