Car Sharing

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Description

Catherine Marie Simpson:

"Car sharing, not to be confused with ‘ride sharing’ or ‘car pooling,’ involves a number of people using cars that are parked centrally in dedicated car bays around the inner city. After becoming a member (much like a 6 or 12 monthly gym membership), the cars can be booked (and extended) by the hour via the web or phone. They can then be accessed via a smart card. In Sydney there are 3 car sharing organisations operating: Flexicar (http://www.flexicar.com.au/), CharterDrive (http://www.charterdrive.com.au/) and GoGet (http://www.goget.com.au/).[1] The largest of these, GoGet, has been operating for 6 years and has over 5000 members and 200 cars located predominantly in the inner city suburbs. Anecdotally, GoGet claims its membership is primarily drawn from professionals living in the inner-urban ring. Their motivation for joining is, firstly, the convenience that car sharing provides in a congested, public transport-challenged city like Sydney; secondly, the financial savings derived; and thirdly, members consider the environmental and social benefits axiomatic. [2] The promotion tactics of car sharing seems to reflect this by barely mentioning the environment but focusing on those aspects which link car sharing to futuristic and flexible subjectivities which I outline in the next section.

Unlike traditional car rental, the vehicles in car sharing are scattered through local streets in a network allowing local residents and businesses access to the vehicles mostly on foot. One car share vehicle is used by 22-24 members and gets about seven cars off the street (Mehlman 22). With lots of different makes and models of vehicles in each of their fleets, Flexicar’s website claims, “around the corner, around the clock” “Flexicar offers you the freedom of driving your own car without the costs and hassles of owning one,” while GoGet asserts, “like owning a car only better.” Due to the initial lack of interest from government, all the car sharing organisations in Australia are privately owned. This is very different to the situation in Europe where governments grant considerable financial assistance and have often integrated car sharing into pre-existing public transport networks. (http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/176)


Examples

Car-sharing in Japan

From an extensive report at http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/028678.html :


"How has car sharing spread in Japan so far? According to a survey by the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation (known as the Eco-Mo Foundation), there were 19 car-sharing organizations in Japan as of August 2008, and a total of 522 cars were being shared by 3,875 registered members at 323 car stations. The numbers of cars and car stations more than doubled and the number of members increased by half compared with a survey in January 2007, only a year and a half earlier.

There are a number of reasons that car-sharing systems are growing in Japan. One is the recent soaring prices of gasoline and commodities.

Another is the growing general awareness of environmental issues and spread of eco-friendly lifestyles. Also, many young people are clearly less interested in owning cars than before. One could say that Japanese society is becoming more accepting of green lifestyles, sometimes described by a new business concept called "green servicizing," which refers to the use of the services or functions of products rather than the ownership of products themselves.

Green Servicizing Businesses: http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/027834.html

The national government has recently begun to encourage car sharing as a means of public transport. It is setting the stage for spreading the idea of car sharing nationwide by supporting local governments that have promoted car sharing, and by modifying regulations." (http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/028678.html)

  1. ORIX Auto Co., http://www.orix.co.jp/auto/english/index.htm
  2. Petit Renta, http://www.orix-carsharing.com/ (in Japanese)

Car-sharing in Europe

Carsharing is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, both the classical model and the peer-to-peer model. Examples include Cambio and rent-n-roll.


Statistics

Energy / Ecological Aspects

  • Study in Lisbon, Portugal: "Additionally to the lower consumption of physical and economic resources, car sharing can also contribute to the reduction of energy and environmental impacts (added to the direct ones from the changes on vehicle ownership and usage patterns). A case study was carried out in Lisbon, Portugal, to estimate car sharing impacts and the effects of a possible technology change. The results demonstrate that those benefits can represent reductions of 35 or 47% in terms of energy consumption and 35 and 65% for CO2 emissions, if a shift to Hybrid vehicles (Sc.1) or to Electric vehicles (Sc.2) is promoted, respectively. The impacts of reducing vehicle ownership, in a 1 to 6 ratio, due to the implementation of car-sharing were also estimated." (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814000366)


Discussion

Advantages

"How can a car-sharing system reduce environmental impacts? In Japan, the CO2 emissions from transport sector amounted to 254 million tons in 2006, accounting for about 20 percent of total emissions, and half of the emissions from the transport sector were from family cars. A survey about car sharing by the Eco-Mo Foundation in 2005 showed that when car-sharing systems were introduced in urban areas, members' travel distances and number of cars owned dropped by 79 percent and 76 percent, respectively.

The number of car use by car-sharers in the survey dropped dramatically, while the number that used public transportation, cycled or walked increased. By travelling less, the car-sharers saved 450,000 yen (about U.S.$ 4,290) in costs per year and reduced their CO2 emissions from car use by about 30 percent (or 1.89 tons of CO2 equivalent annually).


The study thus showed that a car-sharing system can reduce the wasteful use of cars and bring about positive effects, such as

(1) easing traffic congestion in urban areas,

(2) supporting the use of public transportation systems,

(3) contributing to urban environmental measures,

(4) easing pressure on limited parking space in cities, and

(5) helping reduce global warming by lowering CO2 emissions." (http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/028678.html)


Car Sharing as cultural change

Catherine Marie Simpson:

"Car sharing shifts the dominant conception of a car from being a ‘commodity’, which people purchase and subsequently identify with, to a ‘service’ or network of vehicles that are collectively used. It does this through breaking down the one car = one person (or one family) ratio with one car instead servicing 20 or more people. One of Paterson’s biggest criticisms concerns car driving as “a form of social exclusion” (44). Car sharing goes some way in subverting the model of hyper-individualism that supports both hegemonic automobility and capitalist structures, whereby the private motorcar produces a “separation of individuals from one another driving in their own private universes with no account for anyone else” (Paterson 90).

As a car sharer, the driver has to acknowledge that this is not their private domain, and the car no longer becomes an extension of their living room or bedroom, as is noted in much literature around car cultures (Morris, Sheller, Simpson). There are a community of people using the car, so the driver needs to be attentive to things like keeping the car clean and bringing it back on time so another person can use it. So while car sharing may change the affective relationship and self-identification with the vehicle itself, it doesn’t necessarily change the phenomenological dimensions of car driving, such as the nostalgic pleasure of driving on the open road, or perhaps more realistically in Sydney, the frustration of being caught in a traffic jam. However, the fact the driver doesn’t own the vehicle does alter their relationship to the space and the commodity in a literal as well as a figurative way.

Like car ownership, evidently car sharing also produces its own set of limitations on freedom and convenience. That mobility and car ownership equals freedom—the ‘freedom to drive’—is one imaginary which car firms were able to successfully manipulate and perpetuate throughout the twentieth century. However, car sharing also attaches itself to the same discourses of freedom and pervasive individualism and then thwarts them. For instance, GoGet in Sydney have run numerous marketing campaigns that attempt to contest several ‘self-evident truths’ about automobility. One is flexibility. Flexibility (and associated convenience) was one thing that ownership of a car in the late twentieth century was firmly able to affiliate itself with. However, car ownership is now more often associated with being expensive, a hassle and a long-term commitment, through things like buying, licensing, service and maintenance, cleaning, fuelling, parking permits, etc.

Cars have also long been linked with sexuality. When in the 1970s financial challenges to the car were coming as a result of the oil shocks, Chair of General Motors, James Roche stated that, “America’s romance with the car is not over. Instead it has blossomed into a marriage” (Rothschilds, Paradise Lost). In one marketing campaign GoGet asked, ‘Why buy a car when all you need is a one night stand?’, implying that owning a car is much like a monogamous relationship that engenders particular commitments and responsibilities, whereas car sharing can just be a ‘flirtation’ or a ‘one night stand’ and you don’t have to come back if you find it a hassle. Car sharing produces a philandering subjectivity that gives individuals the freedom to have lots of different types of cars, and therefore relationships with each of them: I can be a Mini Cooper driver one day and a Falcon driver the next. This disrupts the whole kind of identification with one type of car that ownership encourages. It also breaks down a stalwart of capitalism—brand loyalty to a particular make of car with models changing throughout a person’s lifetime. Car sharing engenders far more fluid types of subjectivities as opposed to those rigid identities associated with ownership of one car.

Car sharing can also be regarded as part of an emerging phenomenon of what Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers have called “collaborative consumption”—when a community gets together “through organized sharing, swapping, bartering, trading, gifting and renting to get the same pleasures of ownership with reduced personal cost and burden, and lower environmental impact” (www.collaborativeconsumption.com). As Urry has stated, these developments indicate a gradual transformation in current economic structures from ownership to access, as shown more generally by many services offered and accessed via the web (Urry Mobilities 283). Rogers and Botsman maintain that this has come about through the “convergence of online social networks increasing cost consciousness and environmental necessity." In the future we could predict an increasing shift to payment to ‘access’ for mobility services, rather than the outright private ownerships of vehicles (Urry, “Connections”).


The term ‘digital panopticon’ has often been used to describe a dystopian world of virtual surveillance through such things as web-enabled social networking sites where much information is public, or alternatively, for example, the traffic surveillance system in London whereby the public can be constantly scrutinised through the centrally monitored cameras that track people’s/vehicle’s movements on city streets. In his “sociologies of the future,” Urry maintains that one thing which might save us from descending into post-car civil chaos is a system governed by a “digital panopticon” mobility system. This would be governed by a nexus system “that orders, regulates, tracks and relatively soon would ‘drive’ each vehicle and monitor each driver/passenger” (Urry, “Connections” 33). The transformation of mobile technologies over the last decade has made car sharing, as a viable business model, possible. Through car sharing’s exploitation of an online booking system, and cars that can be tracked, monitored and traced, the seeds of a mobile “networked-subjectivity” are emerging.

But it’s not just the technology people are embracing; a cultural shift is occurring in the way that people understand mobility, their own subjectivity, and more importantly, the role of cars. NETT Magazine did a feature on car sharing, and advertised it on their front cover as “GoGet’s web and mobile challenge to car owners” (May 2009). Car sharing seems to be able to tap into more contemporary understandings of what mobility and flexibility might mean in the twenty-first century. In their marketing and promotion tactics, car sharing organisations often discursively exploit science fiction terminology and generate a subjectivity much more dependent on networks and accessibility (158). In the suburbs people park their cars in garages. In car sharing, the vehicles are parked not in car bays or car parks, but in publically accessible ‘pods’, which promotes a futuristic, sci-fi experience. Even the phenomenological dimensions of swiping a smart card over the front of the windscreen to open the car engender a transformation in access to the car, instead of through a key. This is service-technology of the future while those stuck in car ownership are from the old economy and the “century of the car” (Gilroy).

The connections between car sharing and the mobile phone and other communications technologies are part of the notion of a networked, accessible vehicle. However, the more problematic side to this is the car under surveillance. Nic Lowe, of his car sharing organisation GoGet says, “Because you’re tagged on and we know it’s you, you are able to drive the car… every event you do is logged, so we know what time you turned the key, what time you turned it off and we know how far you drove … if a car is lost we can sound the horn to disable it remotely to prevent theft. We can track how fast you were going and even how fast you accelerated … track the kilometres for billing purposes and even find out when people are using the car when they shouldn’t be” (Mehlman 27). The possibility with the GPS technology installed in the car is being able to monitor speeds at which people drive, thereby fining then every minute spent going over the speed limit. While this conjures up the notion of the car under surveillance, it is also a much less bleaker scenario than “a Hobbesian war of all against all”.

The prospect of climate change is provoking innovation at a whole range of levels, as well as providing a re-thinking of how we use taken-for-granted technologies. Sometime this century the one tonne, privately owned, petrol-driven car will become an artefact, much like Sydney trams did last century. At this point in time, car sharing can be regarded as an emerging transitional technology to a post-car society that provides a challenge to hegemonic automobile culture. It is evidently not a radical departure from the car’s vast machinic complex and still remains a part of what Urry calls the “system of automobility”. From a pro-car perspective, its networked surveillance places constraints on the free agency of the car, while for those of the deep green variety it is, no doubt, a compromise. Nevertheless, it provides a starting point for re-thinking the foundations of the privately-owned car. While Urry makes an important point in relation to a society moving from ownership to access, he doesn’t take into account the cultural shifts occurring that are enabling car sharing to be attractive to prospective members: the notion of networked subjectivities, the discursive constructs used to establish car sharing as a thing of the future with pods and smart cards instead of garages and keys. If car sharing became mainstream it could have radical environmental impacts on things like urban space and pollution, as well as the dominant culture of “automobile dependence” (Newman and Kenworthy), as Australia attempts to move to a low carbon economy." (http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/176)

More Information

  1. Green Servicing ; Collaborative Consumption
  2. Car-sharing tag for updates: http://delicious.com/mbauwens/Car-sharing
  3. Car Sharing Gaining Popularity in Japanese Cities, http://www.japanfs.org/en/pages/026694.html
  4. Cars, Climates and Subjectivity: Car Sharing and Resisting Hegemonic Automobile Culture?