2009 North American Carsharing Update

This article is part of our series of updates on carsharing status, problems, projects and plans from members of the New Mobility Agenda’s World Carshare program. Why so much attention to a mobility form that will never account for more than a percent or two of all trips in our cities? Simple. Carsharing is one of the vital keys to sustainable transport.

2009 North American Carsharing Update

Higher fuel costs, increased environmental awareness, and a slowing economy are supporting carsharing growth in North America. The principle of carsharing is simple: individuals and businesses/government fleets gain the benefit of vehicle access without the cost and responsibility of private vehicle ownership. Members access a fleet of vehicles for use on an as-needed basis, typically paying by hour and mileage.

The authors estimated that there were 650,000 carsharing members sharing approximately 20,000 vehicles worldwide as of October 2008. In recent years, carsharing in North America has expanded to be the largest market in the world. As of Fall 2008, the North American market accounted for approximately half of the worldwide carsharing membership and nearly 40% of the worldwide carsharing fleets deployed.

As of July 1, 2009, a total of 60 carsharing operations have been deployed in North America since 1994. Of these 60 carsharing operations, 42 are operational and 18 defunct. Reasons for closures include experimental programs, high insurance costs following 9/11, and cost and staffing considerations.

As of July 2009, there were 26 carsharing organizations in the U.S., with approximately 324,000 members sharing more than 7,700 vehicles. As of July 2009, there were 16 carsharing operators in Canada, with more than 53,000 members sharing approximately 2,000 vehicles.

In Canada, member-vehicle ratios have steadily risen over the past ten years, from 14:1 in 1998 to 26:1 in 2009. In contrast, the U.S. is one of three nations worldwide with substantially higher member-vehicle ratios. In July 2009, U.S. member-vehicle ratios were 42:1. Higher U.S. member-vehicle ratios have been a business strategy undertaken by many operators to increase vehicle usage and profitability, particularly among the largest for-profit and non-profit operators.

In North America, five major business models have emerged:

1) for-profit,
2) non-profit,
3) cooperative (owned by its members),
4) public transit (carsharing operated by a public transit agency), and
5) university research programs (operated by universities for research purposes).

In both the U.S. and Canada, for-profit operators continue to account for the majority of carsharing members and fleets deployed.

As of July 2009, 30.8% of the operators are for-profit (eight of 26), in the U.S.; accounting for an estimated 86% and 88% of members and vehicles, respectively. In Canada, 37.5% of the operators are for-profit (six of 16) and account for approximately 87% and 86% of the members and vehicles, respectively.

Commercial Mainstreaming of North American Carsharing

The October 2007 merger of Flexcar and Zipcar, which created the world’s largest multi-national operator, marked the beginning of carsharing’s commercial mainstreaming phase in North America. Since late-2007, North American carsharing has been marked by the following trends:

1) increasing availability and affordability of insurance,
2) market growth and diversification,
3) market entry and competition by traditional car rental services, and
4) continued public policy development.

In North America, the cost and availability of insurance has had a substantial impact on carsharing. Initially, insurance was either unavailable or cost prohibitive, particularly in the U.S.

As carsharing has mainstreamed, insurance has become increasingly available and affordable. This has coincided with market diversification and expansion into new markets, including government and corporate fleets, small business, and colleges/universities.

Three North American carsharing operators have entered municipal fleet contracts with the cities of Berkeley, CA; Philadelphia, PA; and Vancouver, BC. Market diversification has been more common in the U.S. with the expansion of carsharing services to over 150 North American college and university campuses, the majority in the U.S.

Another major trend has been the recent launch of carsharing services by traditional car rental companies, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s WeCar, Connect By Hertz, and U-Haul’s U Car Share.

As carsharing becomes increasingly more mainstream in North America, a number of policies are being considered. The majority of these policies are in the U.S. in locations with existing carsharing services that support large memberships; however, a few policies have been developed to encourage carsharing startups. Some of the carsharing policies include developer and zoning regulations, fleet reduction, participant subsidies, on-street and off-street parking, and taxation.

As carsharing continues to expand, both supportive and unsupportive policy approaches will continue to influence carsharing’s growth and locations in the U.S. and Canada.


Berkeley and City CarShare to Make History: First Shared Municipal Fleet in the U.S. Press Release, City of Berkeley, California, July 15, 2004. www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/mayor/PR/pressrelease2004-0715.htm. Accessed July 28, 2008.

City to Join PhillyCarShare, Cut 400 Vehicles. City of Philadelphia, Press Release, April 12, 2004. http://www.phila.gov/pdfs/City_to_Join_PhillyCarShare.pdf. Accessed November 12, 2008.

Cohen, A., S. Shaheen, and R. McKenzie. Carsharing: A Guide For Local Planners. PAS
Memo, May/June 2008.

Millard-Ball, A., G. Murray, J. ter Schure, C. Fox, and J. Burkhardt. TCRP Report 108: Car-Sharing: Where and How It Succeeds. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2005.

Shaheen, S.A., A.P. Cohen. Growth in Worldwide Carsharing: An International Comparison. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1992, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp 81-89.

Shaheen, S., A. Cohen, and M. Chung. American Carsharing: A Ten-Year Retrospective. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2009, forthcoming.

Shaheen, S. A., A. P. Cohen, and J. D. Roberts. Carsharing in North America: Market Growth, Current Developments, and Future Potential. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1986, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2006, pp. 116–124.

Shaheen, S. and M. Meyn. Shared-Use Vehicle Services: A Survey of North American Market Developments. Proc., 9th World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems Conference (CD-ROM). Chicago, Ill., Oct. 2002.

Shaheen, S. A., A. Schwartz, and K. Wipyewski. Policy Considerations for Carsharing and Station Cars: Monitoring Growth, Trends, and Overall Impacts. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1887, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2004, pp. 128–136.

The authors:
Susan A. Shaheen is a Research Associate, Mineta Institute , &Co-Director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) University of California, Berkeley. She can be reached at sashaheen@tsrc.berkeley.edu

Adam P. Cohen is a Research Associate, Transportation

Sustainability Research Center (TSRC)
University of California, Berkeley. He can be reached at apcohen@cal.berkeley.edu.

New Mobility Agenda references:

* New Mobility Agenda at www.newmobility.org
* World Carshare Consortium at www.worldcarshare.com
* World Carshare Cafe (forum) at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldCarShare/

World Carshare Consortium: This free, cooperative, independent, international communications program supports carsharing projects and programs, world wide. Since 1997 it offers a convenient place on the web to gather and share information and independent views on projects and approaches, past, present and planned future, freely and easily available to all comers.

To put this report into its broader international context, the following map taken this morning from the World Carshare Consortium discussion forum pinpoints the last eighty message origins, and in the process provides some visual clues as to where the action is in the sector worldwide. Basically what we are seeing is that the number of contact points is steadily expanding as new countries and cities start to get involved in the forum discussions. A first step in a process which we have seen in many places lead to carsharing itself.

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eb-about the editor - 18oct13

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