Lend Your Car, Make $$ and Save the World

Cars are parked 22 hours a day on average 

The costs of car ownership and travel are far higher than anyone realizes: a 100 km total trip costs between 65 and 80 dollars when parking, fuel, wear and tear, insurance, depreciation, repairs are included. A car is usually parked and unused 22 hours a day but still incurs costs. Why not let someone use the car when you’re not and make some money at the same time Robin Chase told me in this 2011 article. She launched Buzzcar in France as part of a strategy for reducing CO2 emissions and congestion in cities.  UPDATE (Feb 2015) Chase’s concept has come to North America – RelayRides is one such peer-to-peer car sharing service you can now try.  — Stephen

By Stephen Leahy

BERLIN, Jun 2, 2011 (IPS)

The world’s more than 850 million cars and small trucks are parked 20 to 22 hours a day. Why not use these vehicles more efficiently by letting other people drive them when the owners aren’t, asks Robin Chase, CEO of Buzzcar, a car- sharing network to be launched shortly in France.

“Sharing vehicles is much more efficient and represents a huge opportunity,” Chase told some 800 attendees from more than 50 countries at the OECD’s annual International Transport Forum (ITF) in Leipzig last week. The Forum is an intergovernmental organisation for the transport sector involving 52 different nations.

The ITF projects there will be three times as many cars – an eye-popping 2.5 billion – by 2050 according to its Transport Outlook 2011 report released at the meeting. Adding that many more vehicles in a sustainable way is an “extraordinary challenge”, said Jack Short, Secretary General of the ITF.

The vast majority of this growth will come from the developing countries since travel by passenger vehicle in a number of high-income countries has not increased, and even declined in some countries. Short acknowledged making such projections is risky because many factors such as lower economic growth, congestion in cities or new technologies will have an impact on levels of car ownership in future.

And the Transport Outlook report did not factor in the potential for car-sharing to offer personal mobility without car ownership.

Buzzcar is a car sharing service where car-owners in a city or town allow their idle cars to be used by other local citizens in exchange for getting about 70-75 per cent of the rental fee, Chase told IPS in an interview. Even when a car is parked it costs their owners money, she says. The average cost of owning and operating car is 8,000 to 12,000 dollars a year even if it sits parked 22 hours a day. (update: more like $9,000 to 14,000 according to auto clubs)

Buzzcar is an opportunity for car owners to get better value out of their vehicles and to help with ever- rising costs of car ownership. More importantly car sharing reduces the need for car ownership overall, she says.

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Chase was a co-founder of Zipcar, a U.S.-based car-rental network with more than a half million members where people rent cars by the hour from easy-to-access neighbourhood lots or stations. Zipcar owns some 8,000 rental cars. She then went on to start GoLoco, a ride sharing company in which people pay to ride along with others in the network, and the drivers take a cut of the fees.

The key to making Buzzcar work is simplicity and the growing use of smart phones, says Chase. Car owners can register their vehicle in the Buzzcar network in five to seven minutes. They download a smart phone app, enter details of their car such as year, model, and location, and upload some photos. Nothing needs to be installed in the car.

People looking for a car become members for 20 euros and look through the network for a car in their neighbourhood. Reservations are made online. The owner of the selected vehicle gets an email or text message with the time and duration of the rental and either agrees to the rental or not.

Car keys are picked up at a pre-arranged location. The current odometer reading, time and exact location are recorded by the renter’s smart phone. Date-stamped before and after pictures taken by smart phones avoid disputes over damages and who is responsible, she says.

The seven to ten-euro-an-hour charge to rent a car through Buzzcar may seem costly to many but few car owners are aware of how expensive personal vehicle travel actually is. A 100 km total trip in your own car costs between 65 and 80 dollars when all costs are included such as parking, fuel, wear and tear, insurance, and repairs, according to the UK Automobile Association.

“When people pay by the hour to use a car it changes their mindset about travel,” says Chase.

In her experience with Zipcar people drive 40 to 80 percent less when they rent by the hour. They chose other modes of transport like walking, bike or taking transit when it’s more cost effective, efficient and appropriate. “This is really all about ‘right-sizing’: choosing the right mode of transport to match the need,” she says.

Buzzcar will be open to car sharing in June in France, mainly centred around Paris, and Nantes and Lille. Chase chose France because there are more people who are “car independent” both those who don’t own a car, and those owners who don’t care if someone else drives their car and are looking to reduce the costs of car ownership, she says.

Paris is also home to the widely successful Velib, where thousands of bicycles are available for one-way rides for a small fee. A similar system is planned for 4,000 all-electric cars around Paris and its suburbs.

Car sharing is the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, says Chase. She estimates that a shared car could potentially replace 15 or more cars, freeing up huge amounts of space currently occupied by parked cars. That would create more space for wider sidewalks, bike lanes and even parks.

Building more roads or parking is not what makes people in cities happy, says Enrique Peñalosa, a former mayor of Bogota, Columbia and an influential thinker on urban issues. Peñalosa started Bogota’s famous car-free Sundays where no cars were allowed in the entire city of eight million.

“Public spaces where people can see other people and talk to each other is what makes people happy,” Peñalosa told ITF conference attendees. “High quality sidewalks are more important to a city than roads.”

However, he acknowledges there is a powerful car-owner lobby who are any city’s wealthiest and most vocal opponents to any restrictions on cars. They are often supported by the construction industry, bankers and oil companies, he notes.

“You can never solve congestion and traffic problems by giving cars more space. Reducing parking reduces congestion and frees up space to create public space. Money from making cars pay more to be in city can be used to improve transit,” he says.

“If everyone is equal, why do we give so much more space to car owners than we do those riding on a bus or walking on a sidewalk?”

First published as Lend Your Car, Save, and Save the World – IPS ipsnews.net.

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