Can you give me a background of CarShare HFX, when and how it started, and the motivations behind it?
We stared a year ago December 4th. The first year is always the most difficult, but with the support from Haligonians it has been really quite rewarding. We have nine cars and coming up to 250 members and even more drivers. It’s growing with not only household members but also what we call workplace members. And the workplace members are recognizing the value in terms of how much money they save by not owning or buying another car. A lot of people are using this as a second car option. Halifax hasn’t had an option like this before. Vancouver was the first English-speaking car share, and they’ve been going almost the same amount of time. Communato was the first in North America, and they’re coming upon their thousandth car. In Toronto alone they went from 2,000 car share drivers to over 20,000 in the last four years. I call it the little industry that could.
It does seem like something that doesn’t have as much public awareness as it should.
My goal is to have all three levels of government workers using Car Share HFX cars during the day. And this should be a goal right across Canada because of all three levels of government having made promises to decrease GHGs and their energy use. And according to a study done by the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal (CRE-Montréal), Équiterre and Communauto a couple of years ago, car sharing can decrease GHGs by one tonne per person if somebody starts car sharing. That’s huge.
Cities are encouraging people to live in higher densities so they don’t have to have cars. So let’s give them options. In fact, car sharing works best when there’s a good transit system, because what we’re trying to do is create a fabric of options for people to be able to get out of their personal use vehicle, such as walking, bike paths, subsidized public transit, car sharing, and taxis and rental cars. All of those things are enough. And we’re trying to change the role of the car because right now, it’s like a status symbol, and there’s also the convenience factor. We’re saying look, all you need a car for is the get from A to B.
And are you finding that it’s working, that you’re getting the message out? It seems like people are embracing it.
It’s been embraced in Halifax so much that the Halifax Waterfront Development Corporation, which is responsible for parking all along the waterfront, recently announced that anybody who’s driving a CarShare HFX vehicle will have free parking in their parking lots. There are a lot of people who are supporting this effort up and beyond just an exchange of service, which is an indicator that people really want it in the city. CarShare HFX has been recognized by Halifax’s Chamber of Commerce as one of five finalists for best new business of the year.
What innovations are taking place in the future?
There are companies that are looking at what they can do to decrease their GHG use and their whole corporate social responsibility program. Up until now it’s almost like they didn’t want to touch transportation: “don’t make me get out of my car”. But in fact, it’s the lowest hanging fruit for them to reach their environmental mandate. If they incorporate car sharing into a workplace, then staff have the option to walk and take transit and bike to work for most of the year. A lot of institutions like universities and companies are putting a lot of effort into carpooling, but they’re missing a piece: car sharing. In order for people to feel like if they need car mobility, that they have an option in town and if they need to get home in an emergency that that option is available to them.
I did a presentation the other day and I brought up the idea of a roaming membership, which would give members access to cars in any Canadian city. A prominent businessman in Halifax said ‘Well, I’ll join just for that.’ He travels all over Canada, and it’s a huge asset not to have to rent a car for meetings when you only need it for a short period of time. For instance, somebody can fly to Vancouver from Halifax and get on the Canada Line and be at a car within 15 minutes. So the roaming membership is a huge plus for businesses as well as creating another component of their strategy to reduce costs and GHGs.
Have you encountered any resistance or has it been pretty easy to get people to participate?
The only resistance is the psychological thing about ownership, that it means something to own a car. But you can see that this industry is going to take off even more because people are getting that they actually don’t need their own car. People don’t understand that it costs them anywhere between 30 and 40 dollars a day for it to sit in their driveway when they’re not using it. We need to shift our thinking about what we use cars for. People literally save thousands of dollars.
Commercial and residential landlords are putting cars in their buildings as an amenity for their leasers and renters. This is a very convenient and low-cost option for people to have car mobility without owning a car. People can refer to a website called carsharing.ca, and there they can see in what cities there’s a car sharing organization. City governments are taking this on as a very integral part of their transit system. San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all have created bylaws for developers to incorporate car sharing into their developments. For instance in Vancouver, if you build car sharing into your development you don’t have to build as many parking spaces, which is saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases.
Hertz, the rental car company, is recently getting into it in Berlin and Madrid. It’s the way to go. We have the technology that permits reliability, the technology where you can book ahead for the car that you want and it becomes your car. The industry is maturing such that if you look into any city, you really don’t need to own a car anymore. Anywhere between 10 and 20 cars are taken off the road with every car share car that’s used. What I want people to think about is: what if everybody did this? What difference would it make in a city? What difference would it make in our neighbourhoods?