Research shows advantages, use patterns for different car-sharing models

By Mary Ebeling

Car sharing is maturing, expanding options beyond the initial model of a station-based system structured around accessing and returning cars parked at designated location. Of particular interest is the free-floating car share model, or FFCS, which allows members to pick up and drop off a car anywhere within the service area without being tied to a designated parking location. This new choice, in use in Montreal, expands service flexibility geographically, but also broadens the member demographic, which could have additional environmental and congestion mitigation benefits.

New research begins to answer the questions how, why, and where people in Montreal use the car-share system. Montreal’s car share, Communauto, is the largest car share in North America, with 1,500 cars and 28,000 members. The company offers FFCS; one-way service, which allows pick up and drop off at different stations; and station-based, or round trip, car sharing services. Parking fees, fuel, maintenance, and insurance are included at no additional cost to the member.

With the variety of different options available within the same system, it is interesting to consider who prefers which option. The authors of a recent study identified clear differences in use patterns between FFCS and station-based car sharing: Women more commonly use the FFCS service than men. Shopping trips are the most common trip type made using FFCS, presumably due to the increased convenience of transporting purchased goods. FFCS might encourage multimodal trips. A shopper might walk to a store but want a vehicle to transport purchases home, for example. Without FFCS both legs of the trip might have been made by car. Other advantages of FFCS include driving someone home; work trips; medical trips; and visiting friends. Additionally there is a strong seasonal component with FFCS seeing more use in the colder months when bike share is not running and active transportation modes generally see lower use.

The data sets used for the study included transactions for both FFCS and traditional, station-based service, GPS trace data for the FFCS system, and a survey to provide increased understanding of the FFCS service. Surveys conducted for this study showed FFCS trips generally replaced transit, biking, walking, or taxi modes, rather than single occupancy vehicle trips.

Car sharing is seen by industry groups as an “opening to increase efficiency and ease congestion in a cost-effective way….” As North American car share companies implement creative new ways to provide services it will be interesting to see how travelers respond to new choices and how this response might impact environmental quality and roadway congestion.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.