Car sharing is a prominent examples of the sharing economy. Whilst it can refer to services such as Uber which allows car owners to operate as a taxi service, this article will be investigating the potential environmental benefits of services which allow people to borrow cars for personal use as and when needed, such as Zipcar. It offers the consumer the benefits of a private-owned car without incurring the cost and responsibility of actually owning a car. You can skip straight to our recommendations for carsharing services here.
There are a few key ways that carsharing has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and benefit the environment. Firstly, many towns and cities are becoming over-crowded with privately owned cars which results in limited parking spaces. Fewer cars equals more parking spaces so less fuel will be wasted whilst cars drive around trying to find spaces. Secondly, it has the potential to change consumer habits. If an individual has to consider the effort and cost in hiring a car they are more likely to walk, cycle or use public transport if it makes more sense. Thirdly, the cars used will often be better suited to the journey and release less emissions. Carsharing fleets tend to be younger, better maintained and often offer an electric option. Moreover, you can choose a small economical car to nip to the shops or a larger car if more room is required, as opposed to driving a privately-owned four-by-four on every journey. Finally, carsharing can for many people be a replacement for buying their own car. This mitigates the emissions involved in purchasing a new car as well as decreasing demand in the car market.
Research suggests that carsharing does having a positive impact on the environment, reducing emissions produced by cars. It has been observed that every shared car that makes 20,000 km a year replaces at least 8 private cars (ICS Studies Office, 2005). Moreover, Martin and Shaheen (2010) found that in North America 46% of carsharing users who own a private car, which drove on average 21,250 km a year before joining the service, reduced to 800 km per year and have sold their car. Moreover, users who did not own a car gave up buying a car, saving the highest amount of emissions.
Data from Germany (Firnkorn and Muller, 2015) and Ireland, (Rabbitt and Gosh, 2016) found that carsharing users would save CO2 emissions through decisions not to purchase a privately-owned car.
An analysis of Car2go free-floating carsharing service (Martin and Shaheen, 2016) translates the reduction in mileage in an estimate of the fuel not consumed and of the reduction of emissions. Overall, there is an average reduction of 10.6% of greenhouse gases for each member of Car2go.
There have been multiple studies investigating the extent to which these variables decrease emissions and as with most research, there are some mixed results. A study in Lisbon, Vasconcelos et al. (2017), found that there were only environmental benefits when the shared cars were electric. This is because, despite the petrol and diesel fleet of shared cars having better performance than Portugal's representative car fleet, the existence of the service led to trips being carried out by car which would have otherwise been carried out by public transport, walking or cycling.
Despite this, there are multiple studies that state carsharing’s potential for reducing emissions. Here at Go Eco we think it is a great use of the sharing economy with huge potential to reduce the number of cars on our towns and cities. However, users must be careful that they are not replacing more efficient modes of travel such as public transport, cycling and walking with driving simply due to comfort. Secondly, where possible users should opt for the eco-friendlier options of electric and hybrid cars. Check out our recommendations of car-sharing services here.