Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why we love car-sharing!

Great article in the NY Times:

Environmentalists have long hailed car-sharing as a more efficient, less polluting approach to urban driving.

For example, a 2006 survey done for CommunAuto, a Quebec car-sharing organization, found that each shared vehicle replaces eight individually owned ones, leads to an 1,800-mile reduction in distance driven per year per member, and resulted in up to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

A 2003 study of San Francisco’s City CarShare program found that fully two-thirds of members deferred car purchases.

And, as if the automobile industry didn’t have enough to worry about, a growing number of North American cities are also looking to leverage car-sharing benefits by allowing high-rise condo developers to reduce their underground parking requirements if they agree to provide on-site spaces for commercial or nonprofit car-share companies.

Having launched a review this week of its condo parking regulations, the city of Toronto appears to be about to join Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco in moving to a system that would specify the maximum number of dedicated car-share vehicles inside apartment buildings, as well as a regulated threshold for eliminating individually owned spaces.

Car-sharing is much more established in Europe, but the World Car Share Consortium says the trend has now caught on in about a thousand cities worldwide.

Some of the larger North American players, like the 275,000-member Zipcar, are targeting university campuses and corporate customers with on-site vehicles, while large rental chains like Hertz are moving into a business described by Mark Levine in the New York Times Magazine as “both a burgeoning cult and a bright business story in a grim time.”

According to an I.B.I. Group car share study published in March for Toronto, a 250-unit building with 16 car-share vehicles in Seattle may eliminate up to 47 parking spaces. In Vancouver, the same building could have four car-share vehicles, and 12 fewer spots. San Francisco, for its part, mandates car-share vehicles in larger residential and commercial buildings, but doesn’t allow developers to reduce on-site parking.

Kevin McLaughlin, the president of Autoshare in Toronto, said he has seen a proliferation of condo parking spaces for sale on Craig’s List in the past 18 months — a sign that high-rise dwellers are increasingly going car-free.

That trend points to the need for looser parking regulations for developers, Mr. McLaughlin said. “If we’re building our cities for the next 50 years, we’re not going to need one or two cars per condo unit locked in the basement.”

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