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Carsharing in the US: A Strong New Trend Among City and Local Governments

 
エネルギー環境 2011年8月23日

Rapid Access International, Inc.

April 2010.

http://www.rapidaccess.com/

The United States is such a vast country with a limited infrastructure for public transportation like trains or high-speed rail. The result is that most Americans are heavily dependent on the use of their automobiles to travel from place to place, to commute to work in their offices, to buy groceries, etc. 

Americans are becoming increasingly aware of environmental protection and they want to help reduce pollution and the emission of Co2 in the environment. They also want to restrict the use of fossil fuels such as gasoline. An innovative alternative for Americans in larger cities such as Washington, DC is to use “carsharing” as a means of transportation that is economical to use as well as helpful to the environment by reducing the number and overall environmental impact of automobiles on the road.

In the United States, “carsharing” means the rental of cars for short periods of time and often by the hour. The key benefit is that a car is available to the user whenever they need to have a car and the use of the automobile is occasional based on the needs of the user. The renting of the vehicles to the user in the United States is typically through a commercial company such as ZipCar or Car2Go. In other cases, there are public agencies, cooperatives, or groups of users who form a collective to use the cars.

The trend for carsharing is growing and at present there are more than one thousand cities in the world where people can carshare.

Case Study: The City of Austin, Texas Adopts New Model for Reducing Pollution and Traffic through Car Sharing

In the State of Texas, two state agencies launched a pilot carsharing program using the small, 2 seat “Smart-For-Two” cars manufactured by Smart Cars. Smart is a member of Mercedes-Benz Cars, a Daimler AG Company. Smart USA is a division of Penske Automotive Group. The program, or partnership, was launched in mid November 2009.

Under this carsharing program, employees of two Texas state government agencies (the State Preservation Board and the Texas Council on Competitive Government) will be able to use these Smart cars. These designated vehicles will be allowed preferential parking at designated parking spots located at the Texas Capitol complex.

The pilot program is being managed by a commercial company called Car2Go. This company will allow state employees to use the vehicles for free while the cars are being used for government business and state employees can use the cars for a small fee for personal errands or for their own use after work hours or on weekends.

Car2Go has a similar program with the City of Austin, and the city has provided designated parking spots around the city for the cars. The cars are painted blue and white and are easily recognizable for use by city employees. Recently the famous cyclist, Lance Armstrong (who lives in Austin) has signed his organization – The Lance Armstrong Foundation – to use the cars under the Car2Go program and the City of Austin.

The main goal of the carsharing program in Austin is to reduce pollution by allowing city workers to use the Smart-For-Two cars instead of full sized cars for multiple small trips around the city. These smaller cars average 36 miles per gallon (mpg) according to Edmunds.com (a car information site).

Opportunity for Japan

With cars coming out of Japan that are up to 100 percent electric with no emissions (i.e.- Nissan Leaf), Japan is leading the way in the development of fuel efficient, low emission vehicles. Since these characteristics are favored by carsharing companies and programs, the carsharing trend could represent an increasingly important opportunity for Japanese companies.

Karla Villalon is the contact person at the City of Austin Transportation Department regarding the car-share partnership. She explains that the overall cost for the city’s vehicle fleet and the environmental impact were the primary factors considered in the choice of a partner for the carsharing partnership. If the environmental impact factor is considered alone, it would seem that there are opportunities for this and other carsharing initiatives to improve on the choice of vehicle in order to better meet these primary goals.

On the other hand, Ms. Villalon has also noted the importance of the cost factor. Although Smart cars are not cheap, the partnership with Car2Go whereby the city provides parking spaces in exchange for free ridership for its employees when used for work enables the program to meet the city’s primary objectives. Presumably, Car2Go is able to balance this commitment with the profits made from non-work related ridership by employees and use by local residents and tourists who are not employed by the city.

Advantages of Carsharing

The case for an increasing trend toward carsharing programs in the United States is defined by the following Key Advantages of Car Sharing:

  • Carsharing is not limited by office hours
  • Reservation, pickup, and return is all self-service
  • Vehicles can be rented by the hour, as well as by the day
  • Users are members and have been pre-approved to drive (background driving checks have been performed and a payment mechanism has been established)
  • Vehicle locations are distributed throughout the service area, and often located for access by public transport.
  • Insurance and fuel costs are included in the rates.
  • Vehicles are not serviced (cleaned, petrol filled up) after each use

Key Terms/Trends:

  • Carsharing

Other Resources:

  • Car2Go: http://www.car2go.com/
  • ZipCars: http://www.zipcar.com/
  • City of Austin: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/

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