Last 16th and 17th of September, the fourth CSA conference (Car Sharing Association) in Toronto gathered around 150 urban mobility specialists, first and foremost worldwide car sharing operators.

During these discussions about car sharing, it appeared that, behind this word, there was today a variety of proposals that non-specialists tend to view as a whole, but which actually correspond to really different uses and applications. Most of the experts that were there that day, amongst them Mobility which is one of the first car sharing operators launched in Switzerland, agreed on the fact that there are four main versions of car sharing for the general public even though they still use various terminologies.

We will describe here the main services concerning shared vehicles for the general public as well as making the most of this opportunity by proposing a terminology to facilitate and enrich the discussions on this subject.


“Return” car sharing

It is also called “classic car sharing”, as it is the form in which car sharing was developed from the early 80s through historical operators such as Mobility, Greenwheels, Cambio, Zipcar, Caisse Commune/Mobizen or France Autopartage.

The vehicles proposed by the ZipCar service are taken and returned by the customer on stations exclusively dedicated to this service.

In this case, the vehicle is made available in a permanent station on the basis of a prior reservation (by internet or via a customer relations centre) with a departure and an arrival time. At the end of its use, the vehicle must be returned to its original station, usually located in a covered car park or on a dedicated street parking space.

These return car sharing services are often charged through an annual or monthly subscription combined to the cost per hour and the cost per kilometre. Over time, operators have generally built a variety of prices to meet the needs of both regular and occasional customers.


“Free floating” car sharing

This type of car sharing, invented by French researchers from INRIA who then founded the company VULOG in order to develop and propose this technology, consists in making vehicles available within a delimited area (typically the dense urban centre of a city).

Identification of available vehicles by the Communauto service deployed in Montreal through a dedicated application

The clients of this service can spontaneously take a vehicle (at most with a reservation of 15-30 minutes to ensure the availability of a vehicle parked at a distance away) by identifying it on the operator’s application from the web but more usually on a smartphone. Available vehicles are parked in parking spaces in the city, typically on public roads, for which a parking authorization would have been negotiated between the operator and the city.

In this type of service, the customer can drive wherever he needs, including outside the delimited area. The only constraint is that he can only terminate the rental of the vehicle by returning it within the delimited area, using one of the authorized spaces.

That is why this activity is called “free-floating”, because the fleet of operator’s vehicles remains within the defined area but constantly changes locations. The use of this type of service requires a good knowledge of the smartphone and a good ability to find your way in the city.

These “free-floating” services, widely spread by Car2Go (Daimler’s subsidiary) and DriveNow  (BMW’s subsidiary), are usually charged by the minute and are mainly used for one-way trips, after which the client leaves the car and makes it available to another customer of the service, which will then be able to use it for a new trip .


“One-way” car sharing

This type of car sharing service differs from the previous one in that it is a service built on a network of dedicated stations, and the using constraint is that the customer has to take and return the vehicle in one of these stations. However, the term “one-way” means that, unlike the “return” car sharing, the customer can return the vehicle in any of the network stations, provided it has available space.

This type of car sharing is not very much spread, since only Bolloré has deployed it through the Autolib’ service in Paris, and recently through Bluely in Lyon.

Dedicated Autolib’ charging and parking station in Paris

This variety of service, imposed by the need to reconnect the Bolloré’s Bluecar electric vehicles to their charging stations, generates uses that are very close to that of the “free-floating” car sharing, and is also charged per minute, in addition to a monthly or annual subscription for Autolib ‘ and Bluely .

The creation of a dedicated stations network that, surely the Parisians and the inhabitants of Lyon noticed, presents added benefits to the clients as it is simpler to locate a vehicle before starting a journey as well as booking a space to park in a station (before or during the trip) which is highly appreciated if, however, the stations are well-balanced… (those who use Vélib’ know well how empty or full stations can turn a pleasant trip into a real nightmare). We shall come back to the subject of the limits within the Autolib’ system, and more generally about the additional constraints imposed by the car sharing system with electric vehicles in a future article.


“Peer-to-peer” car sharing

This latest form of car sharing is the combined result of the social networks’ development and of collaborative consumption. A whole new collection of peer-to-peer car sharing operators has emerged over the past two years. In France, we can mention Buzzcar, Drivy, Livop, Deways or OuiCar.

Homepage from the Buzzcar peer-to-peer vehicle’s rental site

The proposed service is usually pretty close to the return car sharing, the difference being that the operator’s job is only to put the owner of a vehicle (who doesn’t use it much) in touch with someone looking to rent a vehicle for a limited period of time and at an attractive price; but he also takes care of providing an official framework to this rental, especially concerning insurance.

This service is usually compensated by a fee or a commission charged on each rental, with prices usually based only on the direct costs of the vehicle, and therefore often very attractive prices compared to those from renters or professional operators.

This form of rental is usually charged on the basis of a formula combining the number of hours or days of rental and the mileage.


These definitions being given, it’s important to notice that this multiplication of car sharing services is an indicator of the entry in the mass marketing phase of these services. In 10 years, the number of “car sharers” in the world has increased from 160,000 to over 2 million, and this growth is accelerating.

The question is no longer whether car sharing is worthy of interest or not, but what kind of car sharing service(s) suits me best. In many cities around the world, people can have a choice between 2, 3 or 4 types of car sharing services or operators!

These different types of car sharing offer very different experiences and also meet different needs. They prove to be more complementary than competitive.

These “car on demand” offers associated with the classical short -term rental and with the taxi allow to provide access to a car through the form of services, able to meet almost every travelling need for the residents of large cities. This can represent for them a real alternative to a private car, from both an economic and practical point of view.

Diagramme Autopartage_EN

Multimodality in large urban centers, excluding the private car (source : Inov360)

A wider adoption of these services will still require a transformation of habits, favoured by younger driver generations who are increasingly aware of these alternatives and are naturally more open to them as they are members of the collaborative consumption.

The other issue deals with the fact that the offers will have to meet increasingly growing and demanding needs and will also have to find the balance point and the right level of integration, since they are entering the transport sector which is already well developed.

It is certainly in this area of public space and associated infrastructures, especially through their allowance policy and management of roads, that local authorities have an important role to play in redefining the role of cars in the city. Hence the importance of understanding and analysing these new services and their impacts, starting with their characteristics.

By : Vincent PILLOY

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