Wednesday, January 13, 2010

World Streets Annual New Mobility Country Reviews:
A 2010 update on carsharing in Canada

Kevin McLaughlin, one of the key figures in advancing the carshare agenda not only in his city (Toronto) but also across Canada and more broadly in North America as a whole, has taken time out from his busy schedule to tell our readers about the state of carsharing in Canada as we head into 2010.

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An update on Car Sharing in Canada in 2009 (with the important proviso that I am writing from Toronto, the isolated, self-centre of a surprisingly diverse country qui parle deux langues et qui vive moins qu'un ou deux heures de l'etats unis mais parchance etais plus que six mille kilometres entre nous.)

Car Sharing in Canada (and North America) turned 15 this year, thanks to the quiet, tortoise-like-success of Communauto. Félicitations au Benoit, Marco et tous l'equipe!

While the economic problems of the world impacted Canada and its car sharing companies, for a variety of reasons, the economy in the larger cities did not seem to suffer as much as in many 'industry towns' and the USA. It would seem that member growth in the establised, larger urban centres - Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec - may have had its first ever 'reduced growth rate' year, but these cities still experienced decent growth in new members. Most importantly, everyone seems to have been managing their fleets (fixed costs) to grow at a much slower rate than their members. For example, AutoShare in Toronto grew our fleet by a net of only 5% (10 cars), but added over 2,000 new members (20%) with gross revenues up about 15%.

At the end of 2009, there were about 1,800 shared cars in Canada - more than half of them in Quebec (all Communauto) and less than 350 Zipcar (in Vancouver & Toronto).

There remains strong interest in smaller cities across the country, which no bigger companies seem interested in serving without subsidy. New organizations have sprouted in Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and several town in BC. Grand River Car Share continued to reflect its new regional name by partnering with local folks to launch a car share in Hamilton. Halifax launched ate in 2008, and worked hard to build their Maritime market.

The co-operative movement is very strong in Canadian car sharing, and the Canadian Co-operative Association funded a cross-country promotional effort (the first of its kind). The second oldest car share in North America, Vancouver's Co-op Auto Network hosted the annual Socially-responsible Car Share Organizations of the Americas conference in October, which this year brought groups from across Canada, USA, Brasil and Australia.

Having arrived in Toronto in 2006 in a blaze of advertising spending, 2009 was actually quiet year for Zipcar in Canada. They continued to provide spill-over media coverage and brand-name recognition (en Canada anglais) from their efforts south of the border, especially the iphone app launch. But in general, there was less ad spending from anyone in Canada and more focus on service - and perhaps social media. The boom of Twitter (and decline of 'old school' blogging) was echoed in the world of car sharing, as customers began talking about their daily trips, joys and #fails with their @Zipcar, @AutoShare, etc...

In Toronto, the city is finally realizing that its all about parking. Both AutoShare and Zipcar have been taking advantage of the development offsets being granted to new condo builders if they provide carsharing parking in their buildings (often as high as 10 few spaces per shared car, in the range of $200,000 cost savings!). Toronto recently approved its first large condo (300 units) with NO PARKING for residents, and 9 shared vehicle onsite. And, 11 years after car sharing arrived, council finally approved its first on-street parking pilot, with 20 spaces to launch in early 2010 (to be shared by AuoShare & Zipcar).

Communauto continues to enshrine itself into the transportation and cultural fabric across the province of Quebec, with new city, transit and provincial partnerships, laurels from leaders, and relentless growth. (They now have as many as 20 Toyota Matrix, in case you need something other than one of their 1,000 Toyota Yaris. And, you haven't been allowed to smoke in their cars for several years.)

Vancouver's Co-op Auto Network made one of the biggest transitions there is for any organization, saying farewell to their founding Executive Director Tracey Axellson after more than 12 years. (Tracey and I met at a transportation conference in Vancouver in November 1995. She hung a sign-up sheet asking "who wants to start a car share" and I was the only one to sign my name.) In 2009, CAN also won the RFP to deliver car sharing to the City of Vancouver including City Hall, installed OpenCar's technology in all 230 of their vehicles, continue to grow their service in communities across their region - and scooped-up a great new URL which I hope they rebrand under soon, "car.coop".

Metavera picked-up steam as a global systems provider, adding new customers on several continents, keeping their system on the leading edge with new features like smartphone access, and perhaps most importantly, inked a deal with in-car tech leader Convadis, creating a seamless service-product offer for an industry notoriously short of the tools to deliver on the promise of our idea.

We said goodbye to CityFlitz, a short-lived fleet advertising company that offered cars for rent at $1 a day - and drew sharp criticism when they appropriated the term 'car sharing'. (While generating big revenue for their wrapped cars, they buckled under the costs of maintaining their fleet.) We also extend a late-year 'bienvenue' to Connect by Hertz, which snuck-in quietly, late in the year, onto a university campus near Edmonton.

Ongoing information about car sharing in Canada can be found at CarSharing.ca

Kevin McLaughlin
President, AutoShare
Publisher, CarSharing.net
co-founder, Co-operative Auto Network

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A mid 1990’s news story from Europe spawned the first car sharing network in Canada in October of 1998. Since then, co-founder Kevin McLaughlin has worked tirelessly on making AutoShare an affordable and viable option to car-ownership in cities across Canada. His dedication to the environment does not end there, as he has also co-founded Evergreen, a national NGO aimed at bringing communities and nature together to form a healthy and sustainable environment. Despite these responsibilities, Kevin helps to raise his young son and still finds time to volunteer at a bird and dog rescue program started by his wife. (From Treehugger interview of 11.16.06)

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