Most of world’s population (54%) currently lives in towns and cities, and the number is expected to rise above 70% before 2050. Such high population densities pose a series of challenges for sustainable mobility, but also offers new opportunities. A significant part of this population can perform all their daily routine inside the very same city where they live, either because they live close to their workplace or because they are able to work remotely, relying only on public transportation for their mobility needs. Therefore, the number of vehicles owned by the population decreases inside large cities.
Vehicle ownership in an urban environment has a large economic cost, due to the parking, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and other expenses. This investment is not particularly efficient, since the vehicle is only used a small fraction of the time (usually below 20%, and quite often below 5% of the time). Nonetheless, the traditional public transportation means cannot replace the door to door mobility provided by a private vehicle, as they are constrained by their operation area lines, stops and schedules.
Therefore, car sharing is a very appealing proposal, since it allows for door to door mobility like the private vehicle, but it reduces the associated costs. Rather than paying for the ownership of the vehicle you pay for the service of mobility while you need it, and the fleet operator takes care of the purchase, fuel, maintenance, parking, management and periodic updates of a shared vehicle fleet. This also makes carsharing systems socially inclusive, as it allows families with less resources to access a door to door solution without the need for a large initial investment as required to purchase a car.
Thanks to mobile communications, keyless car access and satellite navigation it is possible to track and manage a large fleet in real time and even to interact with the vehicle remotely. This allows users of the car sharing system to know where the vehicles are located, each individual vehicle features and status, book them in advance, pick the type of vehicle that suits their needs for a particular trip (short urban transit, large capacity transport, all terrain driving or longer trips with passengers) and access the vehicle without the need for physically exchanging keys, fobs or tokens.
Also, since shared vehicles’ usage is more efficient and intensive in time, it is possible to spend a relatively larger budget per vehicle in order to pick the safest, most reliable and most fuel-efficient vehicles. This is doubly true for those cases where an electric vehicle can be used, as it can be refueled with renewable energy and it does not have emissions during its operation, doubling the benefit for all the population in the operation area.
The deployment of car sharing systems does present some challenges, both from a technical and organization standpoint, since you need a technical solution to monitor, locate and interact remotely with the vehicles and the users have also to adapt their travel habits to the system capabilities.
Nonetheless, despite these challenges, available technologies allow solving these problems, providing a positive and user-friendly experience and providing measurable benefits, both economic and social, and even environmental, over the traditional single-user vehicle fleets, and presenting a viable alternative to vehicle ownership for most use cases for a large segment of the population.
Author: Pablo Rivas Salmón.
 United Nations. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights (ST/ESA/ SER.A/352). (2014).
 KPMG me, my car, my life 2014 report https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/pdf/2014/11/Me-my-car-my-life.pdf
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The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV