Friday, September 13, 2013

It's nice to share -- even if it's a car

Reporters check out one of the vehicles in Hungary's first ever car-sharing system.
Car sharing was introduced to Hungary for the first time this week in Budapest. The new system, consisting of a small fleet of compact Opels, was presented to news media Wednesday at Budapest's Infopark.

Dubbed Avalon CareSharing, the system was presented by representatives from car-rental company Avalon and the Hungarian subsidiary of Opel. (In the interest of full disclosure, my colleagues in the Green Transport Topic Area of the Regional Environmental Center have played a part with preparatory studies, advisory help and  promotions.) In the first phase this fall, five car-share points will open, all at major business parks and available only to the tenants of these properties. After the Infopark station, a second will open at MOM Park and be exhibited to the public during the upcoming European Mobility Week (Sept 16-22).

In time, Avalon intends roll it out on a larger scale and open subscriptions to the public.

I think this will be good for cycling in Budapest, especially if it's rolled out cleverly and expanded to sufficient scale. I suppose like many cyclists, I had doubts when I first heard of car sharing several years ago. That was when a service called Autolib' was being coat-tailed onto Paris's super successful bike-sharing system, Velib'. It sounded like a brilliant idea from the cycling movement was being co-opted by the car culture, and surely that could only be bad.

But evidence from cities where car sharing is well established shows the effect can be the opposite. One of Europe's best success stories for car sharing is Bremen, Germany. From a modest start-up in the early 1990s, Bremen built a system that, as of May 2011, had 160 cars and 43 stations. Of the nearly 7,000 subscribers, 91 percent did not own their own car. And of those who didn't own a car, nearly 39 percent said they would buy one if car sharing wasn't available.

Doing the calculus, authorities in Bremen figured that every car-sharing vehicle replaces 8-10 privately owned cars, and that the system as a whole replaces some 1,500 cars. That amounted to big public savings because it allowed Bremen to avoid EUR 25 to 30 million investment in parking infrastructure.

Car sharing allows customers to drastically downsize their vehicle investment. One-car households become zero-car households and two-car households become one-car households. Even those who don't give up a car can downsize by trading in their SUVs for something better suited to everyday needs. With car-sharing, they have access to a variety of vehicles, including large-capacity trucks when they're needed.

Car-sharing people make more use of sustainable transport than those who rely on their own cars. That's because with a private car, even though  it costs a fortune to acquire, there's little financial disincentive to use it. Car-sharing allows you to forgo investment, but it has a per-trip price, so subscribers tend to use it only when they need to.

Bottom line is that a cleverly implemented car-sharing system can actually boost levels of walking, cycling and public transport ridership. In Bremen, cycling is huge, and car-sharing's part of the reason.

In Bremen (DE), nearly 60 percent of all inner-urban trips are by "sustainable" means of transport (PT=public transport).
The system in Budapest is just started, but it's developing quickly. In addition to the stations opening this fall in Budapest, the system will be exhibited in Bratislava September 18. In that city, the mayor has embraced car sharing, and hopes to launch a system within six months.

By contrast, Budapest public authorities are staying on the sidelines. The Budapest Transport Center, BKK, has expressed interest in car sharing, but it balked at opening public space for parking stations -- as cities such as Bremen have. Therefore, the first docking stations in Budapest will all be set up on private property.

1 comment:

Bikeurious said...

After the first fleet gets stolen, or the cars keep coming back with parts missing, Opel will realize the folly of opening such an operation in Hungary. Sad to say, but true.