Although the interest is increasing, research about carsharing in China is still at a low level. The objective of this paper is to assess the feasibility for carsharing to work in China, and to find out which city in China is best suited for carsharing to first be tested. Therefore, this paper evaluates current transport background for carsharing in two of China’s major cities, and comparisons were conducted, focusing on: 1) transportation policy which relates to carsharing, 2) geographic features, and 3) demographic characteristics of residents. The main conclusion from this study is that carsharing has a great possibility for development in Beijing and Shanghai . . .
Both of these two cities are facing a dilemma of rapid private car demand and sustainable development. These two cities match the geographic and demographic characteristics of where carsharing is most likely to succeed. However, Shanghai is better than Beijing for a carsharing pilot test, as Shanghai’s local government has considered carsharing in their transportation plan and the “car quota” strategy makes carsharing more attractive in Shanghai than in Beijing. Recommendation for carsharing to go hand-in-hand with bikesharing is proposed.
From the economic revolution in early 1980s, China has had explosive motorization in its metropolitan areas which has brought big challenges for sustainable development. From the 8th to the11th five-year plan, car industry has been defined as a pillar industry of China. Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, said on December 21, 2008 that car industry will continue to be a pillar industry and should be promoted in the next several years to come. It’s reasonable to predict that car industry will continue to develop greatly in China, and the demand for private car purchase is increasing rapidly, which is one of the most important concerns for both central and local governments. Some Chinese governments have looked at carsharing as an alternative way of accessing cars (1, 2).
Carsharing has had a successful experience in Europe, North America, Australia and also in some Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan (3). Though carsharing has been defined and organized differently all over the world, researchers have already reached some agreements on the baseline of carsharing and on where carsharing is much more likely to be succeed (4).
There is very little research about carsharing in China. Shaheen and Martin are the pioneers in studying carsharing in China. They implemented an 840-person intercept survey in 2006 within Beijing to explore carsharing familiarity and response. In their survey, more than 25% of respondents expressed a high level of interest in carsharing, though many of them were not previously familiar with this concept (5). Kaixuan Xia, Mingsheng He and Hua Zhang have done some primary work about carsharing in China, and suggest that Beijing government should encourage carsharing across the city (6, 7). Their research opened a new dimension for carsharing to be developed in developing countries. However, the transport and political background for carsharing in China is not clear, and as China is a top-down powered country, choosing a suitable place for the first carsharing pilot test is very important, which may influence the whole development of carsharing in China.
The idea is to give a clear and detailed analysis of the background and feasibility for carsharing in China, and to find out where to test it. This paper begins with an overview of carsharing in the world, focusing on understanding where carsharing is most attractive and is more likely to succeed. Then detailed descriptions of the current transport situation related to carsharing for two metropolitan cities of China (i.e., Beijing and Shanghai) are given. After that the authors make comparisons of the possibility for carsharing to be developed in Beijing and Shanghai, including transport policy considerations, geographic features of the neighborhood, and specific demographic characteristics of residents. At the end, a summary of our results is presented.
1. Previous Studies on Carsharing
1.1. Development of Carsharing
Depending on country and project, carsharing is called car-club, car-sharing, car sharing, carshare, car share, and at the beginning, it was often confused with carpooling and ridesharing (8~10). There are many definitions for carsharing. Based on a variety of research methodologies, TCRP Report 108 adopted the State of Washington definition of carsharing, that is: “A membership program intended to offer an alternative to car ownership under which persons or entities that become members are permitted to use vehicles from a fleet on an hourly basis”(4). This paper adopts this definition for carsharing.
Most carsharing organizations are in Europe and North America, the first one was “Safage” in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1948. More recent and successful experiences with carsharing began in the mid-1980s (3, 4). As The World Carshare Consortium reported, by October 22, 2008, there were nearly180 carsharing organizations in more than 1000 cities, and more than 70% of them are located in Europe, nearly 25% of them are in North America, and six of them are in Australia, three of them are in Singapore, two of them are in Japan.
Carsharing has different organizational structures, some are for-profit (Zipcar and Communauto), some are non-profit (City CarShare, PhillyCarShare) and some are cooperative (Cooperative Auto Network). Also there are many kinds of carsharing operational models, such as neighborhood carsharing, station cars, business carsharing and campus carsharing.
1.2. Benefits of Carsharing
There are various sources that identify benefits resulting from carsharing, covering environmental, economical, and social aspects. TCRP Report 108 classified carsharing benefits from another dimension: individual layer, transportation-system layer and environmental/community layer. It pointed out that the best data on the impacts of carsharing exists at the individual layer, the advantages in the environmental/community layer are much greater than the first two, but it is not well understood at the moment (4).
How to classify, the main reported benefits of carsharing include: cost savings, greater mobility and convenience, lower parking demand, more fuel-efficient vehicles, less vehicle travel, more transit ridership, lower emissions, less congestion, better urban design, more attractive public transit systems, and less vehicle ownership (11~14).
1.3. Factors for Successful Development of Carsharing
Researchers have made lots of efforts to understand where carsharing is much easier and more likely to succeed. Research on this topic has focused on consumer demographics and geographic analysis of neighborhoods. This information is very useful, as the demographic aspect refers to the micro characteristics of consumers, and the geographic aspect refers to the macro features of the neighborhood.
Though there is no definite answer to what are the necessary characteristics are of the consumer for adopting carsharing (e.g., there are still debates on the gender’s impact on carsharing adoption), researchers already have some degree of consensus that a typical carsharing member is likely to be (1) well educated; (2) having a higher than average income; (3) aged 25-45; (4) from a small household (4, 15~20).
A fair amount of research has also identified the type of neighborhood which appears to offer the best opportunity for carsharing development, including: (1) high residential density; (2) scarce parking space; and (3) good transit (15, 20~23). TRCP Report 108 had some new findings, it suggested that “certain transportation characteristics may be the most important to identify markets for carsharing, variables such as commute mode split, household composition and – in particular–vehicle ownership seem to be the best proxies for the types of neighborhoods where carsharing succeeds” (4).
Besides demographic and geographic aspects, researchers also think government’s support is very vital for carsharing. Meaton and Low point out that “by creating awareness and gathering knowledge, the local champion appears to be a more significant factor in car club development than the geographical and socioeconomic factors more commonly considered vital to the emergence and subsequent development of car clubs”, and they also suggest that “the future supports should be people-focused rather than place-focused”(23). Shaheen reports that the “majority of carsharing schemes in the United States received some government support, primarily in the form of start-up grants and subsidized parking” (14). Marcus finds that the “lack of involvement or support from local and national government is a major barrier for a vast majority of car club schemes in the world” (24).
2. Current Background for Why China Needs Carsharing
Carsharing is overwhelmingly concentrated in the cores of the largest metropolitan regions in the world (14). Beijing is the capital and has the largest number of vehicles in China (25). Shanghai is the economic engine of China, it has less than 1% of China’s population but creates 5% of its GDP, and it has the strictest car quotas in China, which brought on hot debates since 1994 (1).These two are typical cities in China and present the most serious transportation problems, the average commute time during traffic jams in Beijing and Shanghai are 55 minutes and 49 minutes respectively, which are 2.3 and 2.2 times the non-traffic jam case. Also, economic costs for jams account for 12.5% and 9.1% of consumers’ salary. The average speed in the core area of Beijing and Shanghai in peak hours was just 18km/h (11.2miles/h) and 12km/h (7.5miles/h) in 2005 (26).
The authors take Beijing and Shanghai as subjects to discuss the feasibility and potential for carsharing in China. Census data is used to show the main transportation characteristics which relate to carsharing development, and why they need carsharing urgently.
Rapid Growth of Demand for Motor Vehicles is Now Higher Than Ever Before
Many Chinese scholars have characterized Beijing’s higher demand for motor vehicles as the “Three Million”; that is: at the establishment of Peoples Republic of China (P.R. China) in 1949, there were 2,300 vehicles in Beijing, and it grew very slowly till 1980. However, after the Economic Revolution in early 1980s, Beijing began to have a rapid growth in motor vehicle ownership. In 1997, Beijing reached its “first million” motor vehicles, which took 48 years; from February 1997 to August 2003, just after 6 and a half years, Beijing got its “second million”; and just after three years and nine months, i.e., in May 2007, Beijing finished the growth of its “third million”, and more than 80% of vehicles are private, yet few are accessible to the public.
At the end of 2008, there were more than 3.5 million motor vehicles in Beijing, and it is still increasing at the pace of more than 1000 vehicles per day.
More Supplies, More Demands, and More Congestion
From 1993-2003, Beijing has invested about 121.9 billion RMB ($13.5 US) in transport construction, which is 5.32% of its GDP (25). The increase in investment has accelerated the construction of Beijing’s road system: from 1949 to 2008, subway and expressway routes increased from zero to 200km (124.3miles) and 820km (509.5miles) respectively; and in 2005, highway mileage reached 14,696km (9131.7miles). Beijing as well as all the mainland of China has applied the strategy of “public transit priority”, and is planning to have 561km (348.6miles) of subway (the existing New York subway system has 229.3miles of routes), more than 900km (559.2miles) of expressway, and 160,000km (99419.4miles) of highway in 2015 (25, 27).
On the other hand, the mobility demand is increasing much faster, showing sharp contradictions between mobility supply and demand. During 1987 to 2005, Beijing’s highway passenger use has increased with an average annual growth rate of 18.01%, which is 6.6 times the highway growth rate; and average trip mileage has increased from 6km (3.7miles) to 9.3km (5.8miles), increasing by 55% (27).
Besides, centralized trips have sharpened the contradiction. In 2007, the population density in the core area of Beijing was 22,394 persons/km2, which is 22.5 times the average density of Beijing (28). Trips within the “Second Ring” and “Third Ring” account for 25% and 50% respectively (25).
Contradiction between Better Mobility Choice and Sustainable Transportation
Beijing has tried to find good solutions for alleviating the road congestion and improving air quality, especially after the 2008 Olympics. From June 20th to September 20th, 2008, Beijing’s government implemented the “odd-even license plate rule”, with the purpose of banning vehicles with even and odd-numbered license plates on alternate days. Also the authorities have ordered firms, shops and other organizations to stagger work times to cut traffic volumes. That helped improve air quality and transportation during the Olympic Games.
People in Beijing obeyed these strategies voluntarily for the Olympics. However, after the Olympic Games, Beijing government continued the restriction of car usage, and changed the “odd-even license plate rule” to a new one, which allows residents use their cars only six days a week, according to vehicle’s license plate number. This made it really inconvenient for residents’ daily life and also made a great mess for transportation management. Some residents are going to buy a second car for just one day of use a week, which put Beijing’s transport in an even more embarrassing condition.
Strict Vehicle Quotas but Still High Demand of Personal Car Purchase
Shanghai has a motorization history similar to Beijing from 1949 to 1994. However, in 1994, Shanghai applied a much stricter vehicle restriction strategy on car ownership than Beijing, such as a very high registration fee and vehicle quotas, which is very similar to Singapore (29). This strategy has produced a different result between Beijing and Shanghai: at the end of 2007, Shanghai had 1.2 million cars, which was less than half of Beijing’s (Beijing has 2.78 million cars) (28, 30).
However, the economy in Shanghai is developing quicker than Beijing. In 2007, the Per Capita GDP of Shanghai was 66367RMB ($8728 US) , which is 10323RMB ($1358 US) more than Beijing. Experience around the world shows that as incomes grow, more and more households wish to acquire cars. People in Shanghai are willing to spend more to have a private car, and in 2007, the lowest car registration fee in Shanghai was 50,000 RMB ($6575 US), which is almost the highest in the world (California has a registration fee of $34 US). Though the restriction for private car purchase is very strict in Shanghai, the increasing number of private cars in Shanghai is still as high as 7200 vehicles per month.
More Investment in Road and Public Transit, Bigger Gap between Supply and Demand
In recent years substantial investment has been made in Shanghai’s road and public transport networks. In 2005, Shanghai had a 12,227km (7597.5miles) highway system, which increased 3.4% from 2004, had 560km (348miles) expressway, with an annual increasing rate of 15.5%, and also had a subway system of 136km (84.5miles), with an annual increase of 12.4% from 2004. Shanghai will have a subway system of 13 lines, 237 stations and 500km (310.7miles) in 2012. Public transit trips will account for at least 33% of people’s total trips (1).
The contradiction of supply and demand, however, is still very sharp in Shanghai. Compared with 2004, mobility travels in 2005 has increased 5%. Motor vehicles accounted for 42.1% of all trips, which increased 6%. Trips by subway increased by 24% in 2005 (1).
3. The Feasibility for Carsharing in Beijing and Shanghai
The above analysis showed that Beijing and Shanghai are both at the first stage of a high demand for motor vehicles. Carsharing as a new alternative to private cars, has attracted the attention of researchers as well as policy makers. In this part, the authors use census data and transportation planning to analyze if carsharing is feasible for Beijing and Shanghai.
According to the previous studies on world-wide carsharing and considering China’s top-down power system in which the central and local government makes all decisions on transportation development, this paper checks the feasibility of carsharing in Beijing and Shanghai from three aspects in an top-down order: policy considerations and government’s attitudes towards carsharing, each city’s geographic features, and demographic characteristics of residents.
3.1. Policy Considerations Relate to Carsharing
Attitudes about Carsharing
Shanghai and Beijing differ in research and attitudes toward carsharing. Though researchers have done some work about the potential of carsharing in Beijing, there are no signs that the government will approve carsharing in the near future.
Unlike Beijing, the Shanghai government has been concerned with the idea of carsharing for some time. In the Shanghai Metropolitan Transport White Paper 2000-2020, which is the guideline for Shanghai’s transport development from 2000 to 2020, it has clearly mentioned that Shanghai will consider car clubs at the building or neighborhood level as an effective alternative for full-time private car ownership before 2020. Also, in the project of Personal Cars and China, which was supported by lots of organizations including Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, it chose Shanghai as a case study. The project pointed out that carsharing could become the main method of accessing full-size vehicles for the general population. Some officials of Shanghai government have also promised to increase efforts for carsharing development in Shanghai (as the author contacted).
Policy about Private Car Ownership
Beijing and Shanghai will continue to have different transport strategies for personal car ownership. Beijing won’t exercise restrictions on the purchase of personal cars, but the government is using more and more restrictions on personal car use. In Beijing’s 11th Five-Year Plan for Transportation, it predicts that Beijing will have 3.5 million motor vehicles by 2010. However, by the end of 2008, the number of motor vehicle on Beijing roads was more than 3.5 million, which shows that Beijing’s demand for motor vehicles is much higher than expected.
Shanghai will have a different strategy on private car ownership, the existing system of “car quotas” will be retained, and “government cars” will be brought into a strengthened and unified vehicle ownership control system (1). Car ownership in Shanghai will be limited to 1.6-1.8 million in 2010.
Future Transportation Plans
Beijing and Shanghai have similar plans for public transit and taxi management, which is helpful for developing a good transit system for carsharing. Both Beijing and Shanghai will continue to implement “public transit priority”, and public transit is going to account for 40% and 33% of all trips in Beijing and Shanghai respectively. Also, Beijing and Shanghai will keep strict restrictions on taxis, with a quota of 66,000 in Beijing and 50,000 in Shanghai, to reduce taxi-wandering.
As for car rentals, Shanghai has much more developed car rental system than Beijing. Car rentals were mentioned in Beijing’s transportation five-year plan for the first time in 2005, and the government planned to have 30,000 rental-cars dispersed among 350 stations by 2010. Shanghai will also encourage domestic car-rental companies to cooperate with foreign enterprises. By 2010, Shanghai plans to have 18,000 rental-cars, divide car rental management from taxi management, and increase efforts to build credit systems for car rentals.
Furthermore, the Shanghai government has paid more attention to walking and cycling than Beijing. Shanghai, like Rotterdam, is flat and cycling is easy. Over 40% of trips were made by cycle in 1995. Shanghai is going to maintain and improve its already extensive network of cycle, and cycling is planned to account for about 20% of trips by 2020. Also, conditions for walking will be improved quickly, and trips on foot will account for around 22% of all person trips by 2020 (1, 25, 28, 30).
3.2. Geographic Features
Based on previous substantial analysis of geographic features for areas where carsharing is more likely to succeed, the authors chose the following five variables to analyze the geographic features of Beijing and Shanghai: residential density, non-residential parking space, average parking price, modal split by number of trips, and motor vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants (table 1).
Both Beijing and Shanghai have a very high population density in the core areas, and in the Huangpu District of Shanghai, the population density is 48,799 persons/km2. Though Beijing had 2.78 million cars and Shanghai has 1.2 million cars by the end of 2007, there were only 0.95 million and 0.22 million non-residential parking spaces, which means 3 cars for every one non-residential parking space in Beijing and 5.5 cars for every one non-residential parking space in Shanghai. 90% of these non-residential parking spaces are in or associated with particular buildings which can only be accessed by authorized people. Due to the large shortage, parking price in Beijing and Shanghai is much higher than in other cities in China and prices are quickly rising, especially in Shanghai.
The rate of car ownership in Beijing and Shanghai has increased rapidly over the past few years, but it is still much lower than developed countries. For instance, there are 170 cars per 1000 inhabitants in Beijing and 65 cars per 1000 inhabitants in Shanghai, while the US has 785 cars per 1000 people (31). The percentage of trips made by car is still low, equaling that of public transit. Most trips are still made by bicycle, walking and other non-motorized modals. All of these indicate that both Beijing and Shanghai are not car-dependent at this moment, and these cities are at an intersection of determining future transportation systems. However, from 2000 to 2005, the percentage of public transit trips and car trips increased by 3.3% and 6.6% in Beijing, 4.8% and 6% in Shanghai, and it is predicted to increase faster while the percentage of walking and cycling decrease over the next years.
Table 1 Geographic Features of Beijing, Shanghai
|Density (persons/km2) a||non-residential Parking space(million) c||Parking price ($US/h) c||Modal split by number of trips b (%)||Cars per 1,000 inhabitants|
|Public transit||car||Cycling ,walking and others|
a: Data from Beijing and Shang’s statistic Yearbook 2008. This density refers to the core area of Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing’s core area covers Dongcheng, Xicheng, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts; Shanghai’s core area refers to 660km2 which inside the Inner Ring.
b. Data of 2005, and the data of Beijing came from The Third Transportation Comprehensive Survey Report, and data of Shanghai came from Shanghai Comprehensive Transportation Annual Report 2006.
c. Unpublished data from Shanghai Municipal Committee of Communication for 2008.
3.2. Demographic Characteristics of Residents
There are many things need to be careful when referring to demographic characteristics. When researchers on carsharing studies say ‘higher income’ in the US, they often mean an income of more than $40,000 US or even $100,000 US per year (4, 14), which is much higher than the meaning of ‘higher income’ in China. So under the precondition that Beijing and Shanghai is already embarked on the path of rapid growth in car ownership, the authors analyze demographic characteristics of residents in the context of China.
As mentioned before, the previous studies showed that carsharing consumers are more likely to be well educated, with a higher income, between the ages of 25 and 45, and from a small household (smaller than average). The authors choose these four variables to analyze the demographic characteristics of Beijing and Shanghai’s possibility for carsharing: percentage of employees with high education in city areas (college or post-educate degree), average income per month, percentage of people aged 25-45, and household size (table 2).
Not surprisingly, the average income in Beijing and Shanghai is higher than the Chinese average. In fact, it is nearly double the average in 2008. The percentage of employees with high education in Beijing is 13.8% higher than the average level in Chinese cities, but the percentage in Shanghai is almost the same as the average. The percentage of people aged 25-45 in Beijing and Shanghai is 5% and 3.3% higher than the average of China respectively. The household size of Beijing and Shanghai are almost the same, much smaller than the average household size in China.
Table 2 Demographic Characteristics of Residents in Beijing, Shanghai and China as a whole
|Percentage of employees with high education in city areas a||Average income per year (USD)b||Percentage of people aged 25-45 c||Household size d|
a: Data from The First National Economic Census of China in 2004.
b: Data from National Bureau of Statistics of China, and 1 USD=6.945 RMB in 2008
c: Data from China Statistical Yearbook 2008, Beijing Statistical Yearbook 2008 and Shanghai Statistical Yearbook 2008.
d: Data from China Statistical Yearbook 2008.
Beijing and Shanghai are two main cities in China, they are pioneers of China’s economic development, and also present the most serious transportation problems. Though Beijing and Shanghai have already implemented the “Public Transit Priority” strategy, and Shanghai even has a strict “vehicle quota” system, vehicle ownership is still growing at an impressive rate. Both central and local governments are trying to find new solutions for sustainable transportation development.
The authors analyzed the possibility for carsharing to be developed in Beijing and Shanghai as an alternative to the private car. Based on state-of-the-art reviews, the authors found that the success of carsharing is strongly related to three aspects: policy considerations and the government’s attitude to carsharing, the geographic features of the neighborhood where carsharing organizations located, and the demographic characteristics of the residents near carsharing stations. Considering these three aspects, Both Beijing and Shanghai have great opportunities for the development of carsharing.
As to policy considerations, Beijing and Shanghai will encourage people to use public transit, bicycles and walking as the main modes of transportation, and manage taxis and rental cars use. This will provide a good transportation system for carsharing to work as the “missing link” in the package of alternatives to private cars. Also, Beijing and Shanghai match most of geographic features and demographic characteristics which make it easier for carsharing to succeed. Very high residential density, scarce and expensive parking spaces, a variety of mobility modes and low rates of car ownership in Beijing and Shanghai show that carsharing is very attractive. Compared with other Chinese cities, Beijing and Shanghai have much higher education and income level, higher percentage of people aged 25-45 and smaller household size, which indicates that people in Beijing and Shanghai are likely to adopt carsharing.
However, while the Beijing government has taken no action to promote carsharing, Shanghai’s government has already paid much attention, and has a transportation plan that includes developing carsharing before 2020. This should be vital for carsharing to succeed in Shanghai as the transportation in China is totally governmental-planned. Furthermore, Shanghai’s strict car quotas may make carsharing more popular, because the demand for private cars in Shanghai is the same as in Beijing but the supply is much less. Also, the Shanghai government is making efforts to establish a credit system for car rentals, which is a good foundation for carsharing development too. All these points make Shanghai a much better location for a carsharing pilot test than Beijing. As the bicycle is a very important mobility mode in Shanghai, the government will increase efforts to encourage bicycle use. Maybe bikesharing can go hand-in-hand with the development of carsharing in Shanghai. Couple these two models will complemented each other.
The authors would like to thank Mingquan Wang and Huyun Jiang for their assistance in gathering data for this paper.
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Since 1956, China began to use the “Five-year plan” system, and the first one called the 1st five-year plan which covers a period of 1956-1960. Both the central and local governments have their own five-year plan about what is going to do in the following five years, and they are the most important plans for the whole society. The 11th five- year plan is the most present one, covers a period of 2006-2010. For more information, please visit Wekipedia “Five-year plans of China”.
 xinhua network December 22nd, 2008 http://news.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2008-12/22/content_10544211.htm
 The World Carshare Consortium, http://ecoplan.org/carshare/cs_index.htm
 Beijing Daily May 28th,2007 http://news.idoican.com.cn/bjrb/html/2008-12/14/content_21805155.htm
 Beijing Traffic Management Bureau http://www.gov.cn/jrzg/2008-12/12/content_1176758.htm
 Suppose 1 USD=9 RMB during these years
 Data from Beijing Municipal Committee of Communication
 As Beijing Statistical Yearbook 2008 said, Beijing’s core area refers to Dongcheng, Xicheng, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts.
 Beijing’s Expressways define its structure. By far, Beijing has five Ring Expressways, the inner one called the “Second Ring”, which encloses the core area of Beijing. From the “Second Ring” to the rural areas, there are the “Third Ring”, the “Fourth Ring”, the “Fifth Ring”, and the “sixth Ring”.
 1 USD =7.604 RMB in 2007
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About the author:
Hua Zhang is a Ph.D candidate of Lanzhou University, China. While a doctoral candidate, she received a variety of awards, including the First Rank Scholarship of Lanzhou University, the National Second Class Scholarship of China, and the Outstanding Graduate Student Scholarship. She performed a two-year survey on informal carsharing in Beijing, China from 2005 to 2007, and published some papers on this topic. She conducted research as a visiting Doctoral student in the Sustainable Transportation Research Center (TSRC) in University of California, Berkeley from 2008 to September 2010. Her research at TSRC focuses primarily on bikesharing all over the world, especially attention was given to the world's biggest bikesharing system in Hangzhou, China. She will be participating in our Future Leaders/Young Researchers program, and will be making contributions in the carshare and bikeshare sessions. Print this article