All London needs to join the communal car revolution is 100 names.
Community CarShare operates a fleet of 25 vehicles in Kitchener-Waterloo, available to its 750 members on a self-serve, pay-per-use basis.
Founded in 1998, it expanded to Cambridge in 2007 and Hamilton in 2009. Their membership has increased by an average of 52 percent each year.
Car shares maintain a fleet of vehicles strategically spread around a city. Members book the vehicles online or by phone, and use a pass card to a lockbox to retrieve the keys. They pay a monthly membership fee plus a rate tied to how long they have the car and how far they drive on each trip. When finished, they return it to the parking spot where they found it.
Car shares exist in most major cities in North America.
According to president Jason Hammond, London would be a good fit for Community CarShare – it has a regional population base similar to the other cities they have expanded to (about a half-million), it is going through a downtown revitalization and it is trying to improve its mass transit system.
“All we need is 100 people to register on our website and we’ll put three vehicles in London,” he said. “We’re ready when you are.”
To join, visit www.grandrivercarshare.ca (they’re rebranding) – registering as an associate member costs just $10. Once the car share is active, the application fee is $30 and a $10 deposit for a pass card to the lockbox where the keys are stored. The monthly fee is $40.
Using a car costs about $4 per hour ($5 on the weekend) plus 30 cents per kilometre. Premium vehicles cost another toonie. If time is booked in a larger block of 10 or 20 hours, there is discount. And it's only $1 per hour from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. to accommodate users who are taking the car on a two-day trip.
Beyond that, drivers set it and forget it: Community CarShare fills up the tank, changes the oil and pays the insurance.
They’re the only co-operative, not-for-profit car-sharing outfit in southwestern Ontario. Members elect the five-person board of directors.
London resident Debra Woodhall said she would take advantage of the opportunity.
“I could have use of car when I needed it, (that) would be great,” she said via Twitter.
Another tweeted that she would “sell her car immediately” if a program started up.
“Heck yes,” agreed another.
Hammond said the cost-benefit threshold for car ownership is about 1,000 kilometres per month – if you travel less in your vehicle, it’s not worth it.
“Most of our members are trying to live car-free or close to it,” he said. “They may need a vehicle for the occasional trip to the hardware store, or to get back from a movie that ends after the last bus.”
A significant number of households are getting rid of their second vehicle and joining a car share, he added.
“A lot of people have that second car as a security blanket, in case one spouse needs to run an errand while the other has the car at work, or for that one night a week their kids are going in different directions for activities.”
A car share is transit-friendly. As a not-for-profit, as opposed to privately run car shares such as DaimlerChrysler’s Smart car fleet Car2Go or Massachusetts-based ZipCar, both operating in Toronto, Community CarShare is ultimately trying to get people to always take the most sustainable transit possible.
“We’re trying to increase transit ridership,” Hammond explained. “The kind of car-sharing we do is transit-supportive. It’s part of a whole movement toward what is called collaborative consumption.”
Think of a day trip to Kitchener, where a London membership would also be valid. Why drive your car, or rent one, when you could take a bus or the train into the city and grab a car share to drive that last five kilometres to the door?
Gary Brown, Green Party candidate for London West, brought up the possibility of Community CarShare expanding to the Forest City during a presentation by urbanist and vanguard planning consultant Brent Toderian at a ReThink London event in December.
Toderian is the former chief planner for North America’s greenest city, Vancouver.
A car sharer himself, he said the city made two important changes that helped car-sharing flourish.
“The single most important thing that Vancouver did to become the top car share city in North America was changing the zoning bylaw many years ago to allow developers to build five less parking spaces, which is a huge cost, for every one car share they provided,” he said. “It was a huge financial incentive for developers to build car share into their projects. Every developer took advantage of it. The key to car share working is it’s got to be everywhere, and it’s got to be close. It was a change in the zoning bylaw and an incentive in the parking regulation that made that work.”
In the city of the future, which Vancouver is striving to be, surface parking lots will be sparse, or ideally, obsolete. Toderian said the move away from the personal car and toward more sustainable transportation such as walking, cycling and mass transit (in that order) isn’t just about greenhouse gases, it’s about space.
To illustrate, he used a simile: trying to reduce congestion by building more roads is like trying to lose weight by loosening your belt. More roads just draw in more vehicles, which require more parking spaces.
“Surface parking lots in a downtown are bad for a downtown, full stop. Period,” he said.
Toderian had previously noted that the Millenial generation, 20-35-year-olds, see smart phones as freedom, not cars.
“Driving used to be about ownership,” Hammond said. “Now it’s about utility. We buy a song now, not the whole album. If you want a glass of milk, do you buy a cow?”