Why Should Local Governments Care About Carsharing?

The “sharing economy” is growing at an astonishing rate in response to economic needs, technological innovation, and cultural changes across the globe.

People are sharing things of value that are otherwise underutilized, and in the process building new networks and communities. Through the internet and mobile devices, companies now facilitate sharing your house, your skills and free time, your seats, your car, and your everyday stuff. Some of these new services are challenging traditional regulatory approaches because it is harder to draw the line between public and private, personal and business. Washington area blog Greater Greater Washington recently facilitated an active conversation about whether and how local governments should regulate ridesharing.

There are headlines almost every day depicting the sharing economy at odds with local regulations. And yet, the sharing economy is growing because it has value to people, and fills a need.

As local governments confront the questions of whether, how, and how much to be involved in these enterprises, it is worth thinking about why local governments would care about – and want to support (or at least not deter) – elements of the sharing economy.

We have compiled a literature-review-based report that details the public benefits of carsharing and why local governments should care about these benefits. Arlington County’s Master Transportation Plan is used in this report as an example of a set of long-range transportation planning priorities, but many communities have similar documents full of transportation goals and objectives.

You could perform this exercise for any number of cities across the country. In fact, I encourage you to explore your own local government’s transportation-planning priorities and determine how carsharing could be a part of the equation. Likewise, a similar exercise could be performed for other kinds of collaborative consumption services.

Please read our full-report here, but for a taste of it, some of our conclusions include:

  • On Parking, Congestion, and Mobility: Carsharing reduces household car ownership and vehicle miles traveled. It also alleviates parking and traffic congestion.
  • On Fairness, Equity, and Community: Carsharing increases transportation options for those who are least likely to own a car.
  • On Economics, Housing, and Affordability: Carsharing reduces household transportation costs, thereby making housing more affordable.
  • On Environmental Quality: Carsharing reduces use and dependence on fossil fuels through fuel efficiency. It also reduces greenhouse gases and particulate emissions.

*For purposes of this discussion, carsharing refers to services that provide access to a vehicle or fleet of vehicles for short-term use, priced by the hour or minute, located conveniently throughout the community, and with most if not all costs (such as gas, maintenance, and insurance) bundled into the rate. There are currently two primary service models available in the U.S.: the reserved-space model (trips start and end in the same location) and the point-to-point model (trips can start and end in different locations). Arlington County (Virginia) Commuter Services’ CommuterPage describes carsharing opportunities in the Washington D.C. metro region and how carsharing could be an integral part of almost anyone’s mobility recipe.

Photo by Jason Staten

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