Friday, April 15, 2011

Next Generation Carsharing

Given the recent innovations in carsharing service models, it's probably time made to think about the many variations a carsharing trip offering.  To date the standard model for carsharing is this:  Round trip, pay for the time you reserve and either pay for the actual distance driven (mostly used the North American non-profit and European) or pay for hours reserved with a generous helping of miles included per hour or day (Zipcar, Autoshare and other for-profits)

But there are many more variations that are possible, given enough money and technology, and these, I believe will constitute the next generation of casharing.  Here's my short list of options:
  • Round trip or one-way trips
  • Fixed ("station") parking or floating parking
  • Reservation-based vs. on-demand (may apply to both trip start and trip end times; but see next item); arguably an "instant reservation" is the same as "on-demand"
  • Specified return time vs. open-ended trip (no fixed return time)
Each has significant operational implications and some of these also have implications for the way the trip is charged: pay for actual time the car is in use vs. pay for reservation time. 

Mobility on Demand

Ever since the first demonstration of one-way/on-demand carsharing in Berlin in 2000 I've been trying to come up with a descriptive term for the different service model exemplified by the Daimler's car2go program, and now BMW's Drive-Now.  What I've ended up with is Dan Sturges' term "mobility on demand".  In my definition of MOD I focus primarily on the on-demand, open-ended aspect of the trips.  I'm not sure how important the one-way part of it really is

Finally, it's worth noting that defining what is a round trip or one-way trip isn't as easy as it looks.  Here's an example.  Say I take a car2go to a meeting, and release the vehicle while I'm in the meeting (taking my chances that either it won't be taken by someone else or there will be another Smart close by); two hours later at the end of the meeting I pick up the same (or other) car and drive back to my originating point.  However, since car2go has floating parking (at least in Austin) I probably wouldn't be parking in exactly the same place, further complicating how a round trip is measured.  Unless the system were specially programmed that would probably look like 2 one-way trips.  Of course this is nothing that a team of MBA's or grad students couldn't solve!

I have said before the mobility implications of Mobility On Demand services is staggering - not only the flexibility that such a service offers, but the implications for public transportation, parking, car ownership, etc.  And as I have also said before, I hope the providers of these new services will conduct (or provide the data to allow) detailed studies of the impacts of these services.