The environmental benefits of car sharing
Over 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Even in a city as developed and well served by public transport as NYC, nearly half of all households own at least one car. It is this market that car sharing companies such as Car2Go and Zipcar are tapping into, and they are proving to be successful, with revenue in this sector expected to grow from $1.1 billion in 2015 to 6.5 billion by 2024.
That’s not just good news for the car sharing companies; it’s also great news for easing city congestion and for the environment. This article delves into some of the reasons why car sharing is so good from an environmental perspective…
Fewer cars on the road
About a fifth of the emissions that a car releases over its entire lifespan are caused during the production process. A Berkeley study of the effects of the Car2go sharing service found each new Car2go car eliminated the need for between seven and eleven vehicles. This included cars that were sold due to Car2go membership, or were not bought despite previous plans. As membership numbers increase, this declining demand will hopefully result in fewer cars being produced each year.
Fewer cars on the road also means less consumption of diesel and gas. Over time, this reduced demand may help to slow down the rate of oil production and reduce the need for new oil rigs. The environmental impacts of exploring for oil reserves and offshore oil drilling can be significant, disrupting marine animal habitats and behaviors, so any reduction in drilling activities would be significant for marine and coastal ecosystems.
And because the majority of coastal oilfields have now been found, new fields must be built in more challenging locations; deeper out at sea, or in ecologically sensitive areas like the Arctic. These new locations make it far more likely that there will be environmental devastation in the event of an oil spill.
Increased usage of smaller and newer cars
In the U.S., the majority of car journeys are undertaken with only one person in the car (this number is particularly high for commuting transit), yet mid-size cars and station wagons make up over half of all personal vehicles owned, with another 20 percent being vans and SUVs.
Studies of car sharing members find that more journeys are carried out in vehicles that are appropriate to the needs of the journey. As a result, users save money and get to drive vehicles that are better adapted to the congested, narrower roads of the cities.
Rather than buying an SUV for the once a year that they go on a family camping trip, and then using that huge SUV for the rest of the year to get the groceries, car share users can choose the car size they need for each journey in turn. This means that for shorter, individual use journeys they can choose a small, highly efficient vehicle, and when the summer holidays are due, they can take out the SUV!
Not only that, but most car sharing companies run a fleet of vehicles that are newer than the national average. And since newer vehicles have better fuel efficiency and emit fewer pollutants than comparable older models, this contributes to a better urban air quality and less fuel consumed.
Sharing companies increase electric vehicle usage
A growing number of car sharing companies now include electric cars in their fleets. Two examples of vehicles designed specifically for car share use are the Bolloré BlueCar used by Autolib’ in Paris, and the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive vehicles used by Car2Go in cities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
As many carshare users choose not to own a car for environmental reasons, the EV’s low emission status is a clear benefit. This increases the number of electric miles driven since many individuals who would like to own an electric vehicle are still put off by the higher upfront costs of ownership.
Calculations show that for every gallon of gas burned by the average vehicle, almost 24 pounds of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted, with 80% coming straight out the tailpipe. In contrast, electric vehicles create no emissions from their tailpipes and when compared across their entire lifecycle, produce fewer GHG emissions than similar gas or diesel vehicles. This is particularly the case with the smaller electric models favored by car sharing companies, which produce far fewer GHGs during production.
Reduction in vehicle miles traveled
Several recent studies have shown that car sharers actually drive fewer miles than they did prior to car sharing. The results suggest that the greater cost transparency allows car share members to compare other, more environmentally friendly forms of transport on an equal weighting.
For example, a study of hundreds of City CarShare users in San Francisco found that use of public transit, walking and cycling by CarShare members increased, while automobile travel declined by almost half. These figures translated into daily savings of 13,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) across the study population.
Reduced GHG emissions
All of these improvements translate into a reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, which will hopefully contribute towards slowing down the rate of global warming. The Berkeley University study of Car2go members found between a four percent to 18 percent reduction in GHG emissions across their study population, with an average of 10 percent.
Some car sharing companies have gone further still, and have options for their members to offset the CO2 emissions associated with their vehicle usage by investing in climate protection projects that reduce atmospheric CO2 levels.
More room for urban green space
Looking again at the Car2go study, researchers found that the estimated 28,000 or more vehicles that car sharing took off the road reduced parking demand in the cities.
Because car sharing results in fewer cars on the roads, this means that over time there will be the potential to reclaim land that was previously dedicated to parking, and less need to build new parking infrastructure. Instead, these cities have the opportunity – if they choose to grasp it – to dedicate this freed resource to creating urban green space projects. Urban green spaces improve the quality of life for city residents, and may even help to control urban temperature, offering mini green oases during heat waves, away from the stifling reflected heat of tarmac and concrete.
As car sharing becomes an ever more utilized transport method in towns and cities worldwide, the evidence we’ve reviewed suggests that this will have a positive impact not just on individual users, but on the wider community and the local and global environment. A win for everyone!