Monday, March 3, 2014

Does carsharing promote balanced, sustainable economic growth?

carshare invis1ble parked car

Before digging into the details, the important mechanics of carsharing[1], it is important for policy makers to ask these deeper questions if we are ever to be able to shift gears into sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives.

This is an extremely important foundation question to which the short answer is: yes definitely. But let us dig deeper.

The answer becomes even more self-evident if you turn the question around and ask: Does an automobile-lifestyle promote balanced and sustainable economic growth? (We all know the answer to that one.)

A well thought-out carsharing policy -- which incidentally is not really possible unless you first have worked up a well thought-out overall mobility and land-use strategy – – will definitely make a contribution to promoting balanced and sustainable economic growth. How is that?

  • First because it makes its contribution by removing at least part of the planetary burden of one of the least balanced and least sustainable policies and practice in the transport field, one which by most measures accounts for something on the order of 20% of all emissions, energy and energy consumption, etc., and of our waking hours.

  • Now while carsharing does not all by itself substitute for unsustainable solo driven cars, it is part of a package of alternative services and needs to be understood as such. Many studies have shown that carsharing plays a role in reducing the number of cars in circulation and with it traffic, congestion and all the bad things that connotes.

  • Carsharing leads to energy savings, for all kinds of reasons which are well identified in the literature (e.g., people who carshare drive considerably less and, on average, drive newer more efficient cars). Energy savings lead to a corresponding decrease of the need for spending your hard earned money on imported fossil fuels or indeed any motive source other than renewable energy.

  • Carsharers organize their lives differently from those who are entirely dependent on own cars. They walk more, cycle more, take public transport more and organize their time and trouble more carefully -- by contrast with the average car owner who jumps into their car for a “cost free” trip at the drop of a hat. The mindset and lifestyle of carsharers is really quite different and, to coin a phrase, notably more sustainable.

  • There is a not unreasonable argument which states that without carsharing -- which as we know is an option for being able to drive a car when needed, without being saddled full-time with the considerable time, trouble and expense of an own-car.

And then there is the matter of flexibility and choice. We know in advance that the path to a sustainable mobility system is going to be hotly contested by all those of us who do not want to be entirely deprived of the highly flexible mobility option that our cars can provide. But again, the great advantage of carsharing is that it offers a “soft option" which is available to those who wish to take it, without depriving others of their own choice of mode. This is also called democracy.

Carsharing is thus "the missing link in our sustainable transportation system", and as such it is an important motor for balanced and sustainable economic growth. It is thus a practice and mobility option which is worthy of far closer attention to policymakers that it has received in the past.


netherlands going dutch title pate 3mar14

netherlands going dutch utrecht toc 3mar14

[1] This article appears as an introductory section in the ongoing project and report of the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Environment (KpVV) under the title “Going Dutch: Carshare Strategies for Cities”. The initial announcement and work on this project can be found at

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About KpVV

The purpose of the KpVV -- Kennisplatform Verkeer en Vervoer  or in English “Knowledge Platform for Traffic and Transport” -- is to contribute to making government more competent in the field of mobility. The KpVV  serves local authorities: municipalities, provinces, metropolitan regions, and water boards across the Netherlands.  And more specifically provides support for policy makers, managers and administrators concerned with local and regional traffic, and transport policy making and realization.  But other organizations also benefit from the KpVV competence, products and services, including public interest groups, research institutes, transport and education.

KpVV does not make policy, but contributes on three levels:

  • Assist directors in discussions and decisions on      traffic and transport policy;

  • Support national, regional and local officials with professional knowledge      and competence

  • Connect institutions, individuals and organizations through      professional networks.

The group’s competence extends to all areas of sustainable mobility policy and practice. The present project is carried out under the supervision of the Mobility Management program.
Kennisplatform Verkeer en Vervoer (KpVV)
B  Galvanistraat 1, 6716 AE Ede | B Jaarbeursplein 22, 3521 AP Utrecht
T  +31 (0)30 291 8209  | M  +31 (0)6 20 54 39 02

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  1. It is unlikely that car sharing can be the 'magic bullet' that turns things around. It has to be a much broader set of policies and strategies which transforms our urban mobility. One mode which tends to be neglected is the role of taxis. It sits somewhere between 'public transport' and car sharing.

  2. hank you for your helpful reminder. Of course no reasonable informed person would propose carsharing as a "magic bullet". The article makes the point in this way:

    "Now while carsharing does not all by itself substitute for unsustainable solo driven cars, it is part of a package of alternative services and needs to be understood as such.".

    You will see if you spend a bit of time with World Streets that we are not about to jump to any hasty conclusions about carsharing, or indeed any other single mode, and yes of course, part of the solution is taxis, but not only in their old mode but with all of the variations that are presently in the process of showing their stuff. Including our favorite, shared taxis.


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