Peer-to-peer car-sharing: Should we promote it?
Car-sharing is becoming more and more popular. Especially peer-to-peer car-sharing, which is car-sharing done via an online community, is growing quickly. The fact that it contributes to liveability and accessibility in cities makes it interesting for municipalities to promote car-sharing. But what to do if the vehicles look like ordinary cars? What is the role of cities?
By Tomas Dillema and Friso Metz, Advier
Why car-sharing causes less traffic
The idea behind car-sharing is that one has access to a vehicle 24 hours a day. Whenever you need a car, you can use it. That’s why car ownership results in more car use. It becomes the default way of transport, even if other travel modes might be more useful in certain situations. The true costs of car use are also “invisible.” You do not see the exact costs of a trip by car because, most of the time, users already paid for the purchase, insurance and fuel.
Car-sharing works the other way around. In order to use a shared car, a conscious action is needed. Often, car-sharing systems need a reservation and the vehicle probably is not parked directly in front of your door. You will also have to pay per ride. This makes the costs transparent. As a result, using a car will become one of the last options when deciding which transport mode should be used. You only book a vehicle if a car really is more beneficial than walking, cycling, public transport or riding along with somebody else. In many cases, car-sharing is a backup in situations where there is no alternative.
Effects of car-sharing
A great number of international studies which also researched the various user groups of car-sharing determined that: • A small group of car-sharing users have never owned a car. Thanks to car-sharing, they use a car only occasionally. Part of this group stated that they would have purchased a car if there was no car-sharing system available. Because ownership leads to more use, this same group would probably have used this car a lot more. • A large group of car-sharing users sold their first or second car. Their car use has reduced substantially.
As a whole, car-sharing results in less car use and less car ownership, which again results in less emissions, less parked cars and less occupied public space. According to the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2015) car-sharing users emit 175 to 265 kilograms less CO2 because of reduced car use and reduced car ownership.
Classic vs. peer-to-peer
Two major forms of car-sharing are classic or traditional car-sharing and peer-to-peer car-sharing. One important difference between these types is the business model. A classic car-sharing system requires a minimum amount of users per car. A peer-to-peer system does not. The latter most commonly is rented out when the owner does not need his/her car. A classic car-sharing vehicle will eventually “disappear” from the streets without enough users as its operation is usually market-based. Peer-to-peer cars are not dependent on an amount of rentals and, therefore, their use is less likely to be discontinued.
Most research is done for classic car-sharing, whereas hardly any information about peer-to-peer car-sharing exists.
Cities: promote car-sharing
Cities have an interest in a transition from car-ownership to car-use (Britton, 2014). The interest for car-sharing is growing, but it is still a niche market. In order to create a breakthrough for car-sharing, a significant effort is required, also by governments. According to the KiM Netherlands Institute for Transport Analysis (KiM, 2015), official and political support is an important factor in the success of car-sharing. Governments have access to local communication channels, an advantage that most car-sharing providers do not have. For many citizens, the government is a reliable source of information.
In order to provide their service, traditional car-sharing providers require dedicated parking spots for their cars, which the municipality needs to provide. Peer-to-peer car-sharing does not have this condition. The question is whether municipalities possess instruments to support peer-to-peer car-sharing, if they do not accommodate something like reserved parking spots for traditional car-sharing services.
Additional questions also arise: Classic car-sharing providers like the Dutch Greenwheels use relatively new, small and environmentally friendly cars, whereas peer-to-peer systems have a very diverse range of vehicles. This means there are not only very old camper diesels but also very clean electric vehicles. The average age of a peer-to-peer car is higher than that of a classic car-sharing vehicle. Cities want to discourage the use of old cars that emit high amounts of CO2. Do they really want to promote peer-to-peer car-sharing if this leads to more trips in old polluting cars?
Advier took these questions for some explorative research. They interviewed city officials of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht as well as the two largest Dutch providers in peer-to-peer car-sharing, Snappcar and MyWheels. The following discusses the most important outcomes.
Communication is key
Cities have an important role in the communication of peer-to-peer car-sharing towards inhabitants. Besides this, they have the opportunity to develop policies for all forms of car-sharing in order to support car-sharing as a whole. When promoting car-sharing, cities there are policy frameworks could be implemented such as discouraging the use of cars as well as car ownership, integrating car-sharing policies as a theme in regular traffic policies, conducting stricter parking policies and/or making parking spaces available for car-sharing. All of these are beneficial for car-sharing services, with the only difference being that peer-to-peer car-sharing does not necessarily require reserved parking spaces.
Municipalities could promote car-sharing just by radiating their support. They could enhance the visibility of car-sharing cars by clarifying car-sharing on parking spots reserved for car-sharing. Beside that, they can use life-changing moments (like getting a driver’s license) to make their inhabitants aware of car-sharing.
Discounts on parking permits are susceptible to fraud and are difficult to handle administratively. Also, financial incentives seem out of place, since the owner already benefits financially when he/she loans out his/her car.
Social rewards are probably fit most suitable for encouraging peer-to-peer car-sharing. A ShareFest is a great tool to give the local sharing economy a boost. This is an event where all kinds of activities are organised that have to do with the sharing economy. Cities could also reward car-sharing users and providers with an annual activity, in a same way as some municipalities already do for volunteers.
Fear for negative environmental impact unfounded
The impact of peer-to-peer car-sharing is limited in comparison to classic car-sharing. There are more peer-to-peer cars required to get a similar effect, however, concerns about a negative environmental impact are actually unfounded. A sample of 2200 SnappCar vehicles in and around Amsterdam proved that on average, peer-to-peer cars pollute about a third more than classic car-sharing vehicles. However, peer-to-peer cars are used far less frequently than classic carsharing cars, making them 8 times less polluting than classic car-sharing cars from Greenwheels. Peer-to-peer car-sharing actually accommodates municipal targets. Not only classic car-sharing but also peer-to-peer car-sharing contributes to a more conscious choice of transport modes. This means both business models are a game changer for traffic. Peer-to-peer car-sharing has different traits and characteristics than classic car-sharing. These two types complement each other, however, because, for example, peer-to-peer cars are used more often for long term rentals like holidays.
This means that it would be beneficial if cities supported peer-to-peer car-sharing in the same or similar way to how they support traditional car-sharing, with the exception of providing a parking spot. This need not be a point of supporting peer-to-peer car-sharing. Peer-to-peer concepts work best if there is a large supply and the development is not hindered by too many bureaucratic regulations. The latter is more important for other forms of car-sharing.
Cities should put their “pedal to the metal” when it comes to promoting car-sharing. Cities that do so, contribute to a shift toward less car use, less car ownership and a transition to a healthier environment.
Peer-to-peer autodelen:, wel of niet stimuleren, Tomas Dillema, Advier/NHL, 2016.
CROW: factsheets autodelen, 2016
Effecten van autodelen op mobiliteit en CO2-uitstoot, PBL-publicatie 1789, Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, 2015.
Eric Britton, Going Dutch, KpVV, 2014.
KpVV Dashboard duurzame en slimme mobiliteit, editie autodelen, 2015.
KiM, Mijn auto, jouw auto, onze auto, 2015.