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Counterintuitive: How Having Access to a Fleet of Cars Lowers Car Use


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Photo by tawalker

Scenario one: Your personal car is parked out front and you get a sudden craving for ice cream.

You don’t think about it. You jump in your car, drive to the grocery store, buy a pint of ice cream, drive home and eat the ice cream.

Scenario two: You don’t own a car, but have access to carshare vehicles and you get a sudden craving for ice cream.

You pause to ask yourself – do I really want the ice cream?  If so should I ride my bike to the store or reserve a carshare vehicle, walk to the car, drive to the grocery store, buy a pint of ice cream, drive back to the vehicle station, walk home and eat the ice cream. What would you do?

Apparently, most people under scenario two choose to ride their bike. The data bear this out. A recent study by Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen concludes:

Carsharing can substantially reduce the number of vehicles owned by member households, despite the fact that 60 percent of all households joining carsharing are carless. Households joining carsharing owned an average of 0.47 vehicles per household before joining carsharing, but that average dropped to 0.24 after membership. Carshare households exhibited a dramatic shift towards a carless lifestyle.

Our own Boulder original, eGo CarShare, conducted its own before and after surveys* that support the national study:

52% Decrease in Average Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled (Before: 3,780 miles; After 1,829 miles)

44% Decrease in cars per household (Before 1.24 cars/HH; After 0.69 cars/HH)

61% Decrease in eGo Members who drove alone to work (Before 13%; After 5%)

42% of members reported they either: a) Gave up a car before joining eGo, b) Gave up a car after joining eGo, c) Postponed buying a car because of joining eGo, or d) Plan to give up a car because of joining eGo

18% of members reported they drive alone less after joining eGo CarShare

Scenario three: Your personal car is parked out front. You care about the environment (and don’t mind saving money as well). You’ve read this post. You pause to reflect on your habits. You think about it. You say to yourself “Maybe I should consider carsharing.”  You look online to see if carsharing is a good fit for you. It is and you sign up.  You smile to yourself and eagerly await your carshare keyfob to arrive in the mail within a few days.  In the meantime, you calculate how many pints of your favorite organic, dairy-free, ice cream you’ll be able to buy with the proceeds of the car you just sold.

*All results are based on eGo’s New Member Survey (data before joining eGo) and the Existing Member Survey (data after joining eGo). Surveys exhibited a 24% response rate.

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6 Responses to “Counterintuitive: How Having Access to a Fleet of Cars Lowers Car Use”

  1. Eva Kosinski says:

    If this is the logic, I’m a big confused. Seems to me like you could have the same effect if you just had a parking garage to put your own car in that you had to walk to (say 1/3 of a mile from your home) when you got the idea to go out for ice cream (without forcing your fellow residents to help you pay for it with tax dollars). Or some kind of thing with the car ignition to force it to wait 20 minutes before starting. The result would be the same. You’d say “gee, do I really want to take the time to walk to the garage and get the car just to get ice cream” and you’d get the bike and a lot of tax dollars would be saved.

    But, what if you have a medical emergency — someone at your house needs a ride to the hospital? (you can get there faster than the ambulance can get to you and then return the person to the hospital as long as it doesn’t require EMT skills). Or your boss needs help post haste for a job emergency? (might find someone else who can get there quicker). Er, 20 minutes to wait for the car to start?? A walk to the garage??? Going to the vehicle location by bus??? If this happens only once or twice folks will abandon this approach.

    We somehow really like trying to centralize all these good ideas, but this is a very expensive way to go if you’re just trying to get folks on their bikes. It’s right up there with the business of “calming circles” that are actually a public safety problem if there’s a fire and the trucks can’t get through. That one really didn’t get folks out of their cars, and cost a lot.

    The biggest thing that would cost the least is have lots of places where folks can actually PARK their bikes safely throughout the County. If you build it they will come. The guy who wants ice cream still won’t go if there’s no place to put the bike when he gets there.

    • Alyssa Alt says:

      As the Program Manager of eGo CarShare and I would like to address some of the points raised in this comment. First, eGo CarShare is NOT paid for by tax dollars, in fact it produces sales tax revenue for Boulder. Second, the purpose of carshare is not to make everyone ride their bikes, it is add another option to your personal transportation tool box. To help you decide what the BEST option is for every trip. One thing this article does not mention is the cost associated with transportation and personal car ownership. By paying per trip, people are forced to look at how much their transportation option is costing them every time they use it, and it has a significant influence on their mode choice. Car ownership is expensive, and gas prices are only one portion of this equation, insurance, maintenance, registration, depreciation and monthly parking fees play a roll. According to AAA’s 2011 numbers, owning a mid-sized sedan will cost on average $8,588/year.

      As eGo CarShare’s fleet continues to grow, it will be easier for members to make last-minute reservations for vehicles in close proximity to them. If a medical emergency arises where someone needs to be taken to the hospital quickly, hopefully an ambulance will be called so the person can be transported safely.

      eGo CarShare is a local, nonprofit, transit-oriented carshare, for more information about transit-oriented carshare, please check out the Carsharing Association at, carsharing.org

  2. [...] dedicated to private vehicles.  Our own local non-profit car sharing company, eGo CarShare has surveyed their membership and come to similar conclusion: a large proportion of their membership either gets rid of or avoids [...]

  3. [...] A 2011 eGo car share study showed that member car travel dropped an average of 52 percent after joining. [...]

  4. [...] A 2011 eGo car share study showed that member car travel dropped an average of 52 percent after joining. [...]

  5. [...] A 2011 eGo car share study showed that member car travel dropped an average of 52 percent after joining. [...]

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