Car-sharing schemes allow people the use of a vehicle when they need it, without the hassles and costs of ownership. These ‘pay-as-you-drive’ schemes cut down both on unnecessary car journeys and the total number of cars on the road – and so help to limit congestion, air pollution, and CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change.
A number of schemes across Europe are rethinking how we use cars, and changing their traditional role as prized status symbols.
Raluca Nagy, a Romanian living in Belgium, is one of a growing number of car-share converts. She joined the Cambio scheme – which has almost 25,000 users across Germany and Belgium – six months ago.
“I don’t need a car every day as I can walk or take a bus to work,” says the 29-year old researcher. “But there are times when it’s really useful to have a car, such as when I want to do a supermarket shop or move furniture.”
There are variations in each scheme, but they generally work as follows. When members need a car they reserve one for a specific period of time, by phone or through the internet. “You can even phone up just before you need it. It only takes a few minutes,” says Ms Nagy.
The scheme’s cars are parked at dedicated locations around the city, and a range of different sizes are generally available. Users unlock the cars with a magnetic card and then input a code number to access the car keys. An on-board computer automatically logs the distances they drive.
The total cost is worked out by calculating the amount of hours they have the car for and the total number of kilometres that they drive, with fuel costs usually included in the charges. Cars can be used for periods as short as half an hour.
“It doesn’t cost much as long as you are not doing long journeys,” adds Ms Nagy. “It is definitely much cheaper than owning a car for me, and I don’t have to worry about insurance and servicing the car.”
Ian Martin, an arts administrator from the south west of England, is a member of the City Car Club in the UK. He agrees and points to the other advantages: “It has not only saved me money, it has made life easier in many respects.
“I live in the centre of a city where finding a car-parking space was nearly impossible at times,” he says.
He sold his car around four years ago, shifting to more frequent use of public transport and greater sharing of lifts. “It was an experiment to see whether I could survive without a car. I did and I cannot recommend it more highly,” he adds.
Some car-sharing schemes began as early as the 1970s, but the idea really took off at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s. The first schemes in Europe started in Switzerland before spreading to Germany and other countries. There are now schemes in around 300 cities across Europe, and over 600 worldwide. While the first schemes were non-profit initiatives, most operations are now operated by market-orientated companies, showing the concept is commercially viable as well as environmentally friendly.
A study by the European Commission looked into the environmental effects of a car-sharing scheme in Bremen, Germany. The number of people using the scheme increased from around 30 people in 1990, to more than 3,100 in 2003. The researchers found that each car-sharing vehicle replaces between four and ten private cars, with about 700 in total removed from Bremen’s roads in that period.
The distances driven by car in the city fell by around five million kilometres per year, adding up to total savings of around 2,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Additional benefits also included reduced congestion and better air quality.