Friday, March 21, 2014

Rural carshare project - A thinking exercise & Invitation for comment

rural carshare cowWe keep reading and are repeatedly informed that for carsharing to work there must be good public transport, cycling and other mobility arrangements as indispensable complements. In other words, for carsharing to work you have to be not only in a city, but in a certain kind of city. This position has been an article of faith for many carshare observers for more than a decade, and while there is a certain logic to it, upon inspection it turns out  there is a lot more to successful carsharing than that.

This is a draft working paper from our joint 2014  Going Dutch  Carshare Strategies program for the Dutch government's KpVV,  for which you will find a detailed menu and links  in the upper left  menu here.

Let us put our heads together and run an informal thinking exercise and take a look at how carsharing might work not in a city but in a less than affluent rural community where there is close to zero public transport along with a notable absence of other ways of getting around, other than owning and driving a car.

Now such a sparsely settled outlying rural space is quite obviously not a place in which Zipcar, Hertz on Demand or car2go are likely to show up tomorrow morning and negotiate with the village elders for a new service. So if we wish to figure out how to do some low-cost efficient carsharing in our rural community, we are just going to have to get down and do it on our own.

We are targeting here a specifically rural carshare operation, but similar sharing arrangements have been around for decades, in many places and in surprisingly large numbers (though the statistics are poor on these off-the-record private sharing arrangements). They are generally referred to as informal, private, cooperative or neighborhood carshare operations. But let us stick with our simple rural  example for now.

What about this to get us started?

In one variant, three or four neighboring families get together and together obtain a used car in reasonably good condition, taking advantage at this point in 2014 of exceptionally low prices in the used car market. If we take the Netherlands for example, it should be easily possible to find a midrange used car in reasonably good shape for something on the order of €2000, possibly less.

That gives us a first point of departure for our rural carshare project. In our test case a small handful of  individuals or families get together and each one puts in, say, €500.  Or alternatively they will use a vehicle which  that of the parties already owns.  So now  we already have (a) our sharing group and (b) our car. (There may be a wrinkle that will need attention in terms of joint ownership, but I doubt that would be a problem in most places.)

Next we will need an operational protocol which clearly spells out the conditions of use of each of the owners/authorized drivers. This will best certainly take the form of a legal contract which specifies one by one all of the areas of responsibility and use. (There are numerous examples  of such protocols  so there is no need to start from scratch.)

As part of this  and most importantly  we need to give our attention to insurance, and for the purposes of our model let us assume that we find an insurance company willing to provide insurance for the ownership group at a reasonable rate. (Since these kinds of arrangements exist in more places than one might think, it would be reasonable to assume that with a bit of research it will be possible to find our cooperating insurer.)

The next step will be to define the supporting system, the process of reservation. This can be done manually, though better will be the use of social media and/or any of the simple carshare reservation schemes which are available either free or at low cost.

So  as a sign-in member of the group I can now have a car ("my car", kind of) at my disposal at a reasonable level of cost and can make a reservation from, let us say, Thursday noon until 1800 hrs. on the same day, on the understanding that the vehicle will be returned in good condition and in a timely manner to our agreed parking area. (Something which will be costless or close to it given the fact that we are dealing with lightly settled areas.)

This is often as a class referred to as  “private carsharing”, and since there are few known statistics on it at this point, it remains to be seen how it might be better known in the future, with the thought that if it is carefully done it would represent a public asset which can only profit from wise public attention and support.

For now in the carsharing world all eyes are turned on “classic” carsharing along the model which has dominated over the last 20 years, and more recently one-way carsharing and P2P (peer-to-peer or person to person). But private carsharing is going to be an important player in the future, so now seems like a good time to begin to organize our thoughts and policies on it.  And here is where national and local government can be ready to step in and lend a hand. If . . . they have worked out a strategy.
 If you wish to get a running start  and dig deeper into  the details of setting up  an informal carshare operation,  you may wish to have a look at Carplus UK's Guidance Note of May 2012 "Running an  informal car club' which is available at Another excellent reference is the Belgian informal carshare group Autopedia:

Some other thoughts:

Only rural?  Of course not. We have chosen to take the rural setting as our point of departure for this recommendation since we finally have here a mobility option that can work in these needful places. (See the Neighborhood Car concept in Germany and other parts of Europe and North America for use in other settings.)

P2P: This objective of a rural carshare or , if you prefer, neighborhood car be adequately or better served by P2P ? Could well  be, so there is every reason that this option should also be checked out .

Environmental impacts: What about the negative environmental impacts of one more old car circulating on the road system and as such adding to the overall pollution load of the transport system? This needs to be taken into consideration from a public policy perspective, but there is nothing like a bit of research and some solid numbers to take an informed position on this important question. Off the top of my head, my guess is that given all the potential benefits, this is unlikely to be a deciding factor. But let us let the research work this one out.

Ridesharing potential: Here is another hunch: when it becomes known in the small community that there is a new means of mobility available, it would seem likely that there will be significant potential for ride sharing to develop around the basic model. The word gets out, the car is there for all to see, and the software exists to combine the carsharing and ridesharing functions quite neatly. Again, good policy counsel and guidelines from government and the research community can certainly play a role in making this happen.

Equity: What are the kinds of people and communities who are likely to benefit from the development of new forms of affordable mobility in outlying areas? They will in the main be poorer rather than richer. Older rather than younger.  Less rather than more educated.   Cut off from public services and enjoyable day-to-day experiences and transactions because there is simply no way for them to access them conveniently and affordably.(1)  For excellent reasons why the Going Dutch project in its next stages should be giving attention to these private options as well as to more conventional forms of carsharing .

The role of government: A fair number of the 406 municipalities in the Netherlands are rural and lightly settled. And hard to serve by traditional public transport means. Moreover, it would seem reasonable to guess that few of these key local government units are at present prepared to take an active role in encouraging rural carsharing, in large part because it is not familiar to them.  However since we now know that the key actor in encouraging and supporting more and better carsharing is local government, this looks like something that is worth looking into more closely within the current program. The role of national government in turn is to help  local government to be fully informed as to the advantages and ways of going about creating more and better carsharing.

Next steps: This rough exercise is being  distributed to the number of colleagues in different countries who have better hands-on knowledge of different kinds of carsharing operations and the bit of luck we will be able to factor in their more solid information to add an important sections of the in-process “Going Dutch” project.

(1)  If we bear in mind that the typical  carsharer  in most parts of the world until now  have had  a quite different access and mobility profile from that which we can expect to find expect to find in rural areas: i.e., the studies show that they are typically relatively young, relatively well-off, relatively well-educated  and more likely than not living in a place in which many of their daily shopping and service requirements are close at hand and which offers  relatively good levels of public transit,  cycling  and other  non-car access.

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Reader Comment:

Alan Woodland, 20 March 2014

If the people sharing the car formed a co-operative, the costs of vehicle ownership could be shared within this entity. An advantage to the co-operative structure is that the online booking system at (developed by Modo Co-operative) can be made available to small co-ops with less than 10 vehicles at no cost.

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The editor:

Just to be sure, this is a pure thinking  and sharing exercise, and is not intended in the form you see it here as anything more than that.  Fortunately for anyone who wishes to dig deeper, there is a considerable body of  experience and information available to the diligent researcher or planner  that can help fill in the many blanks  that appear here .

And in the event, there is nothing particularly new about private or informal carsharing, although it is difficult to  appreciate its exact extent given that  these are the kinds of  relationships and transactions that  rarely if ever get picked up by  the statistics.  What good government can bring to this ongoing phenomenon is  to help make available reliable information on key issues and  means of making these arrangements  more effective  and more numerous.  It also may turn out upon study that  other forms of support might also be called on,  in order to  help facilitate  affordable and efficient transportation options for groups and areas that today are not fairly served.  But all that will come out of the preparatory studies and analysis.

Some references:

* Autopia, Belgium -
* Carplus UK -  "Running an  informal car club' -

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