This report details the research conducted by researchers of the Steunpunt Circulaire Economie. The report covers the results of a consumer survey with over 2000 respondents, as well as four interviews with car-sharing companies and interest groups.
The main aims of this research are to get a better understanding of the position of car-sharing in Flanders, what people think of car-sharing, including the barriers people face, and what impact car-sharing is having on behaviour and the environment. The report concludes with a set of implications and recommendations for policy relating to car-sharing and its place in the circular economy. These conclusions are summarised below.
On the evidence of this report, car-sharing could help to reduce the environmental impacts associated with mobility, but only under certain conditions. There is a danger that car-sharing adds to environmental pressures if it is used as an additional form of mobility, rather than as a replacement for private car ownership. Thus, in order to maximise the environmental benefits of car-sharing, and to minimise the risk of increasing environmental burdens, car-sharing should only be encouraged at the expense of car ownership.
There is little evidence that reducing the cost of car-sharing for users will have environmental benefits. Evidence from those who already use car-sharing show that 91% do so because it is cheaper than owning and using a private car. Moreover, of those who are not-sharing, cost was the least important factor. Reducing the cost of car-sharing to consumers will lead to a greater risk of increasing car-use, at the expense of public transport and cycling. Thus, policy should avoid subsidies, both for firms and consumers, whether in the form of direct cash transfers, refunds, or beneficial tax treatment.
Almost 40% of the respondents said that they might be more willing to share cars if the city would make it easier to park shared cars. However, the underlying principle expressed earlier means that any ease of parking restrictions or increase of spaces must be at the expense of private cars. That is, if parking for shared cars is to be eased, parking for private cars should be reduced and restricted concurrently.
Car-sharing has ambiguous effects on public transport. In our survey, 70% of car-sharing users joined car-sharing because it is faster than public transport. This suggests that for some members, car-sharing substitutes for public transport, a negative outcome for the environment. To avoid this substitution effect, public transport, as well as active modes such as cycling, must continue to be supported as much as possible by policies, even at the expense of car-sharing.
Results from the survey suggest that non-sharers are confused about aspects of car-sharing, such as costs and liability. More clarity about these issues from car-sharing firms could help. Regarding costs, there is substantial variation amongst car-sharing firms and their cost structures: a mix of membership fees, monthly fees, km costs, time costs, reservation costs etc. This makes it difficult for users to compare different car-sharing schemes, and crucially to compare it to car-ownership. Many firms already offer a cost calculator; however, a non-partisan price comparison website may ease decisions for potential users. Clear guidance regarding responsibilities, especially the procedure in the case of accidents, may also help ease concerns of potential users.
A common concern amongst non-sharers is the availability of cars, both geo-spatially (e.g. in their neighbourhood) and to meet demand (e.g. availability of a car when they need it). These issues can be overcome by expanding the number of cars in the fleet; however, this will negatively affect the environmental impact and resource efficiency, as cars will be left unused for longer. This is a delicate balancing act for car-sharing firms to manage, as investing in the size of the fleet requires significant capital outlay, as discussed in section 3. However, p2p car-sharing can potentially take advantage of a large fleet if it can attract car-owners to the platform, while some local governments share their own fleet. Sharing an already existing fleet should reduce additional demand (and production) of cars, avoiding some environmental impact and material use.
Results from this research suggest that both existing car-sharers and potential car-sharers are willing to pay more for electric (shared) cars. Moreover, 94% of users joined car-sharing because they think it is better for the environment. Thus, there appears to be an opportunity to use car-sharing to help the transition towards car electrification by improving infrastructure and breaking down the cultural norms that resist electrification. However, charging stations are expensive to install and a lack thereof may pose a significant barrier for electric car-sharing firms. Local governments, in conjunction with car-sharing firms, may expand charging stations in the area to increase the supply of electric shared vehicles. Having charging stations, however, is not enough: if parking spots in the city are scarce, it is a common problem that charging spots are taken just for parking space. Local government could support car-sharing by greater enforcement of rules punishing this practice.
Our statistical analysis shows that company cars are one of the biggest hurdles for ones car-sharing intention. Talks are ongoing to change the system towards a mobility budget or to, at least, decrease the benefits that are currently on company cars. The regulatory framework for shared cars is currently underdeveloped which means that there is no consistent set of rules across municipalities. However, it would be easier for car-sharing firms if the same rules would apply for the whole region or country. A unified view and regulatory framework would greatly reduce the costs that car-sharing firms incur for researching the local rules, negotiating with the cities, and implementing their business each time they want to expand to a different location.
This research has been conducted despite limited access to third-party data. To improve policy making in the domain of car-sharing, and mobility more generally, data collection and availability has to be improved. Greater collaboration between different levels of governments, car-sharing firms and universities/research institutes would enable a greater evidence base for policy making. One step towards this is the inclusion of open data clauses in the permits or contracts between (local) governments and CS firms.