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Summary:

While many of you know this to be anecdotally true, here’s an official study on the trend: According to the University of California Transportation Center, car sharing leads to the reduction of personal vehicles owned.

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While many of you know this to be anecdotally true, here’s an official study on the trend: According to the University of California Transportation Center, car sharing leads to the reduction of personal vehicles owned. In other words, when someone joins a car sharing network, they commonly get rid of their own car.

I did — about two years ago I donated my car and joined CityCarShare, and now I rely solely on a combination of car sharing, public transportation and bike. The UCTC study surveyed 6,281 households that were part of car sharing networks, and found that households owned 2,968 vehicles before car sharing, or 0.47 vehicles per household. After car sharing, the group owned 1,507 vehicles, or 0.24 vehicles per household. That’s a decent sized reduction.

You can also see that people who join car sharing networks often times don’t own cars — 60 percent of people who join car sharing networks already don’t own cars. So that reduction is beyond that smaller vehicle ownership average.

Cars in car sharing networks are also more fuel efficient than the average right now, given car sharing companies like Zipcar commonly bundle in fuel with the fees. The UCTC study found that the average car that was ditched for car sharing got 23 mpg, while cars in car sharing networks get an average 33 mpg.

Car sharing companies and analysts have long touted similar figures. Rachel Botsman of the Collaborative Consumption Lab told me last year that one car being shared in a car sharing network, can lead to approximately 7 to 8 vehicles taken off the roads.

As I wrote earlier this year, 2011 seems like the year that cars became a service. Zipcar went public, and there’s been a rise in new startups building businesses around peer-to-peer car sharing like RelayRides and Getaround. While Zipcar still has under 1 million users, it’s numbers are growing.

Using cars as a service, is the flagship eco-trend of collaborative consumption, or using the web and mobile to share goods. As Botsman explained it to me last year: the ultimate idea is to have our economy value units of usage over units sold, and then the notions of eco-efficiency and business efficiency align.

  1. Car sharing is for those who live in congested cities, not the majority who live in the suburbs where it is several miles to the nearest grocery store. And it won’t work for those who cannot ride a bike or live where the weather precludes biking or walking. Still, it’s a good start where cars have become city polluters.

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  2. So those who already have a car are more likely to get rid of that car. OK, sounds fine. But for those that didn’t have a car in the first place (60% of car sharing customers), surely they are making a lot more car journey’s than they were before?

    So there might be a reduction in vehicle ownership but that doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in emissions. Determining that would require a more complex study.

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  3. Seems to me that the decision to live without a personal car is the genesis of car sharing as a market opportunity. Admittedly as the availability of car sharing spreads, additional people will opt out of personal vehicle ownership.

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  4. Don, I agree in part with your comment. However, I can see car sharing impacting suburban lifestyles as well. I live in a rural area where many drive pick-ups. Some would likely consider a Prius if they knew they had easy access to 50 pickups within their county for rent. I can see a change in rural consumer behavior but more in the types of cars they buy vs. the number.
    My company ToolSpinner is addressing rural peer-to-peer marketplace for power tool rentals. This is a huge industry in every rural county across the country and would reduce consumption similar to cars in urban areas.

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