Car sharing, increasingly popular in recent years, is a new type of service which allows its users to book and then utilise a car, collecting it from a particular place and then returning it to the same spot, with the cost of the service calculated according to usage. The idea is to share out the car: it’s made available for more people, who can use it when they really have need of a car to get around.
It works according to the principle of sustainable mobility; the idea enables the use of cars without having to actually having to own one, meaning that users don’t need to worry about buying a private car but at the same time don’t have to give up the convenience of being able to use one when needed. This type of idea changes the way we see cars: no longer as consumer goods, but rather as a commercial service, supplied by companies with the support of local authorities and environmental groups.
In order to understand why environmentalists are drawn to support this kind of philosophy, let’s take a look at exactly how car sharing works.
The service is akin to car rental by the hour. Cars are parked in various parts of the city in specific places, and if someone needs to use one they simply book it either by phone, logging in to the website or using a mobile app, and then pick it up from wherever it’s parked. The service is open 24 hours a day and bookings can be made up to 15 minutes before the pick-up time.
To start car sharing, the user has to sign up and pay an annual fee, which then enables them to receive their own smartcard and access credentials to enter the system and begin making bookings. Once used, the car should then be returned to the same car park it was taken from before the booking time has expired. The car should always be booked in advance and it is necessary to specify when making the booking how much time you want to use it for. The overall cost includes the annual fee and a further sum for every use of the service, based on the time used and distance travelled. Electric cars usually have a packet of kilometres included in the hourly fee, with any further distance travelled subject to an additional fee per kilometre, just as we would pay when using any other cars.
When they sign up, users receive a smartcard and also receive a PIN code. The car is opened with the smartcard and then the actual hire period of the car begins once the personal PIN code is inserted. At the end of service users then key in the given code to complete the hire period. A device installed in the car is able to automatically register all the movements and times of the journey and these are then shown on the bill posted to the home of the user, containing all the details mentioned in the contract.
All other costs are borne by the company which manages the service: this way, all the expenses which the driver usually has to pay are no longer anything to worry about - no more insurance, maintenance, taxes or even petrol costs!
Car sharing is most popular in heavily populated areas, with a high population density favouring the expansion of the service, as the more people that use it, the easier it is to create more parking zones, shortening the distance needed to travel between them and wherever the users of the service happen to live or work.
In Italy car sharing services have joined forces to form a national association, the ICS (Car Sharing Initiative). The consortium is run by the Ministry of the Environment, which guarantees uniformity in terms of the quality of the cars and equipment and interoperability of all the related services. Every member enjoys the same privileges in all of the cities where the cooperating companies operate, and they can use their personal smartcard in every city. Participating cities who have signed up to the ICS include larger cities like Milan, Rome, Turin, Palermo and Florence, as well as smaller ones including Alexandria, Bologna, Brescia, Bari, Genoa, Livorno, Modena, Mantova, Novara, Parma, Padua, Perugia, Pescara, Reggio Emilia, Sesto Fiorentino, Scandicci, Taranto and Venice.
If the biggest drawback of the service is that you have to take the car and bring it back to the same place, it is worth noting that there is also a range of other alternative services which have their own appeal. Car2Go, for instance, which is active in several countries including Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Israel, the United States and Canada. This service has the advantage of being able to leave the car in a different parking space from where you collected it, and the fee is calculated on the basis of the minutes used rather than by the kilometre.
Autolib, which started in Paris, enables the use of electric cars as well as the possibility to change parking zones, while Enjoy, from the company Eni, was created from the partnership between Fiat and Trenitalia and has been in place since 2013, spreading fleets of Fiat 500s and 600s throughout the larger cities of Italy. This service allows users to leave the car in any given point in the area covered by the scheme.
For and against car sharing
Having a car you don’t use very much is expensive: as well as car tax and insurance, you often have to worry about having access to a garage, and every so often general repairs or an MOT.
It has been estimated that if you rarely use your car, meaning an average mileage below 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometres), then it doesn’t make economic sense to buy one, while there are also many families who already have a main car and only need a second one now and again. In these cases buying a car and then not making full use of it simply doesn’t make sense. Of course it can also happen that our needs change or we might need a bigger or smaller car from time to time. Car sharing solves this problem too! It could also appeal to whoever often enjoys driving different cars as often as possible. All of these are reasons why people are enthusiastic about this new way of using cars.
As well as bringing positives for the individual car user, car sharing can also bring benefits to the community. If more people begin using the service, the amount of cars sitting unused in the streets will be noticeably reduced.
Shared cars are also used more intensively, meaning that they are exploited to their full potential. Their average lifespan is lower and they are replaced far more often than private cars, so that the cars used are newer, both in terms of the materials used (with better safety systems) and with an improvement in the ecological footprint left, as emissions are lower and fuel consumption is significantly reduced, thanks to the use of the latest and continually improving technology.
It is precisely because of this continuous technological evolution that dismantling cars due to overuse rather than age enables us to have better cars far more quickly, helping us to make progress in terms of both safety and the environment.
Because of all these positive outcomes for the entire urban community, various local governments in Italy provide benefits for users of car sharing in order to promote use of the service. The advantages given for users of car sharing include being allowed to drive in the city centre even when other cars are prevented from doing so due to dangerously high pollution levels; the possibility of using preferential lanes and access to limited traffic zones (ZTL); and in some cases free or discounted parking in the city centre.
Car sharing does however have some limitations and restrictions that should be respected when using the service, the first being the fact that the car should always be taken from and brought back to the same place. These are places in strategic parts of the city, but are not always easy to reach quickly for everybody.
To fully benefit from car sharing’s ease of use it is said that users should live a maximum of 400 metres from the car park (a walking distance of around five minutes) or that the car park should be close to a public transport stop.
As well as having to return the car to the car park, it can also be a problem that at the moment of booking it is necessary to specify how long you will use the car for, meaning that if you need to extend the period of use, it will only be possible if no one else has already booked the car for that time period. The basic rule of car sharing is to leave the car in perfect condition: it cannot be personalised or modified and must always be left clean.
There are also other forms of sharing road vehicles. Carpooling is one of these alternatives. This sharing model is somewhat different from car sharing: in this case a group of individuals travel together in the same car, sharing the travel costs; mainly road tolls and petrol. In Italy there is a well-known network which helps drivers who have some space in their car to get in touch with other people who need a lift and are going to the same place, in this way helping to support ride sharing.
Car sharing peer-to-peer
Car sharing peer-to-peer, or fractional car ownership, is a new version of ride sharing. In this case there is no need for a fleet of cars dedicated to the service, as it makes use of the cars owned by members of the scheme. In this case we’re not talking about hiring a car, but rather multi-ownership.
Usually when you buy a car, on top of the not inconsiderable cost of the car itself we also have to deal with a series of fixed annual costs independently of the actual use of the car. Because these fixed costs are considered “normal”, they are often underestimated, and we usually only worry about the amount of money spent on fuel, car parking, motorway tolls and repairs costs if the car is damaged or parts wear out, but we never think about how much fixed costs also affect our bank balance: taxes, bills and insurance.
Having a shared car makes all these fixed costs relative if, for instance, they are shared between three people. In this way the fixed costs of owning a car which usually make a big dent in a family’s budget are divided between three and significantly lowers the weight for each user.
Generally, when someone has their own car, they tend to try to use it as much as possible, convinced that they can then get the most out of it and make the fixed costs pay for themselves, but in this way the perception of the costs of use is lost. A shared car changes this perspective; by reducing fixed costs to a far smaller amount, you are far more aware of the real costs of using the car, actually trying to use it less often, instead of trying to set off the fixed costs by using it as much as possible.
Van sharing is a similar service to car sharing, with the same basic principles but used for the distribution of goods. The vehicles are shared between companies, who can reap numerous benefits. This alternative way of working has proved to be effective for mobility in towns and cities and is becoming increasingly popular, enabling more business people, particularly of the new generation, to get started even when they are unable to make a large initial capital investment.