Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Carsharing Service Models (Wonkish)

Carsharing has blossomed into a variety of service models, which I've tried to describe in this list.  All these have implications for carsharing and for urban mobility in general.

Round trip 

Return to same parking location; although a few services (Zebramobil and one in Bordeaux, France) do not have fixed parking location but the vehicle must be returned to an on-street location with a few blocks of a center point in a neighborhood (before the next trip the user gets a text message with the exact location of the vehicle).

 - Scheduled start and end (pay for what you reserve)

 - Scheduled start but open end return (pay for what you drive) - a few services in Germany offer this on selected vehicles

 - On demand (pay for what you drive)

Open end and on-demand services require larger fleets to be able to execute.


To date, both car2go and Drive Now offer On-Demand and Open-End trips.  In fact, car2go has discontinued any reservation option in Europe (reason being that reservations are not for a specific vehicle, as in round trip carsharing, but for the closest vehicle to a point, which may be quite a distance away from that point at the actual start time of the trip.

Note that since the vehicle has no fixed location, even if it is returned to the same location if the trip was end at the destination and then started again and driven back to (more or less) the same location, it would be reported as 2 separate one way trips) 

 - Between stations only - with reservation or without (Autolib and formerly Honda DIRACC in Singapore)

 - Parking any legal parking space (including meters) within a large zone - with, but increasingly without, a reservation option

Companies may use a specialized vehicle, such as a Smart or small EV (offered byseveral companies in France and Spain) or standard sedan (DriveNow).

The challenge in one-way services is keeping the fleet distributed so users can conveniently find close-by vehicles; differential pricing can help but some rebalancing of the system will be needed.

Vehicle access — "classic carsharing" provides unattended access to vehicles 24 hours a day, usually via an RFID card, smart phone app or SMS/text message.  This level of convenience comes somewhat close to "grabbing the key off the hook" that a private car owner experiences.  Recently, RelayRides adopted the policy that Getaround and many P2P carshares in the rest of the world have been using - having to meet the vehicle owner at the start and end of the trip to exchange the ignition key.  While their may be some advantages to the personal connection between renter and owner (trust), it's a step down in convenience for the renter.

Bundled pricing — Usually includes full insurance and fuel in the hourly or minute pricing (but P2P carsharing no longer includes fuel and a few carsharing companies in the US may only includes basic liability insurance).  

Some implications

The impacts of each of these variations of service on other travel modes is likely to be different and could be significantly different depending on the level of convenience to the renter, or other factors.   As I have lamented previously, I think the adoption of key exchange as the dominant method of access to P2P vehicles from GetAround RelayRides is a major step backwards for carsharing.  Dropping the "gas-included", further reduces the convenience and puts them somewhat closer to car rental.  That said, it's possible that P2P, at least in urban settings, appears to be sufficiently convenient to continue to serve as an alternative to car ownership.

Another aspect of various service models I find very interest is the incredible rate of membership growth demonstrated by car2go and DriveNow (thousands of members before they even launch) suggesting that the high level of flexibility (on-demand and one-way within a large zone) is appealing to different user group than "classic" carsharing.   I think these on-demand/one-way services may be transformative to urban mobility.  I would be remiss not mention the other one-way/on-demand mobility system that is likely to have at least as great if not greater impact on urban mobility: public bikesharing systems.

There may be other service models and other implications - if so please Comment below.  Thanks.