Car sharing would be a more advantageous solution for up to 40 % of private car owners.

A reduction in ownership has been emerging in recent years, becoming even a trend in itself. People are talking about the so-called sharing economy, which means that various commodities are shared or rented, for example, instead of owning everything oneself.

Photo: Stefan Baumeister

Taneli Vaskelainen became interested in a more sustainable society and the sharing economy when planning the topic for his doctoral dissertation. When familiarising himself with the  sharing economy Vaskelainen quickly observed that as yet there are very few such business models or services with scientific evidence of their ecological or social sustainability. Car sharing was the only branch of the sharing economy to offer such research evidence. Accordingly, in his research Vaskelainen concentrated on car sharing services in Germany, where the field has recently begun to boom. In Finland, too, the field is growing.

In car sharing you pay for the time used only

Car sharing services differ from traditional car rental in that they are designed for daily travel. The background organisations are usually clubs, so that after paying the membership fee no further contracts for the use of a car is needed and you don’t have to fetch the car keys from a rental office. You can get hold of a car sharing vehicle by a mobile application or a membership card, for example.

“Use is typically charged by hours or minutes, so that you can just make a quick visit to a furniture store, for instance, whereas for rental cars you would have to pay for the whole day,” Vaskelainen explains.

A slow start but rapid growth in Finland

According to Vaskelainen, there are so far only a few thousand car sharing users in Finland, and he thinks this is due to the fact that we have had far fewer initiators in this business than in Germany. The first service in Germany was established in the late 1980s, and just a few years later there were already nearly 70 operators. In Finland, then again, this business started at the turn of the millennium and the next service was not launched until about a decade later.

“In practice, the provision of these services has increased much more slowly than in Germany, which is a likely and major reason why this business is still in its infancy in Finland,” Vaskelainen states. “If there is no supply, people will not learn to think that giving up their own car could be a viable option. The path is long, and it requires a change of habits before people are ready to give up their own car or even their second car. Adopting such ideas at the individual level is anyway rather slow.” He adds: “In Finland this field is still in the margins, but it is growing fairly rapidly.”

Evidence of various ecological aspects

According to Vaskelainen, car sharing is one of the rare industries where a new service is becoming more mainstream and replacing less ecological practices. Car sharing services following the traditional model, where the car is returned to the same place where it was taken into use, provide evidence for various ecological aspects:

“For example, these services can replace 5 to 15 cars in the street, which frees up space for other uses. According one study, users’ greenhouse emissions will decrease by about  50%,” Vaskelainen says.

How to generate public interest?

The best way to accomplish this would be through visibility, Vaskelainen states. He finds that it would be good to have some push-type steering in this matter, which means collaboration with housing associations, for instance, so that car sharing vehicles available at the building would also be a form of marketing to the residents. It is also important that car sharing vehicles are readily available. Research shows that no matter how car sharing is marketed, interest in them drops dramatically if the cars are located farther than 500 metres from the potential user.

“This is understandable because nobody wants to walk several kilometres or go by bus in order to get to the car and back,” Vaskelainen says.

A threat to public transport?

Some journeys are difficult to make by public transport, like a visit to a furniture store in Vaskelainen’s example above. For such purposes, car sharing is a perfect option and more practical than public transport. Virtually all car sharing services that Vaskelainen has interviewed seek to cooperate with public transport, since these services complement each other in a natural way. In Germany, public transport has also been keen on collaboration, because it has been shown that adopting car sharing has increased the use of public transport as well.

“There is practically no rivalry here whatsoever,” Vaskelainen emphasises.

A more economical option for up to 40 % of drivers

Economics is one of the main assets of car sharing in comparison to private ownership. The estimated monthly cost of a privately owned car is more than 500 euros, including the decrease in its value. Accordingly, in Germany it has been shown that for everybody driving less than 10,000 km per year, car sharing would be a clearly more economical option. Up to 40 % of all drivers in Germany fall into this category.

“If a car sharing vehicle is available within less than 50 metres or so, it has all the benefits of a privately owned car but without the concerns for tyre changing or parking arrangements, for instance, because the parking space is free for the user,” Vaskelainen reminds. “It offers the freedom of private transport without the obligations, because most often the cars are available of 90 to 95 percent of the time.

Earlier discussion has focused on wrong issues

Vaskelainen wants to point out that the Finnish debate around this topic often concentrates on how few car users would be ready to give up their own cars. In his opinion, we should instead stress how many are considering giving up their car. According to one survey, 12% of private car owners were considering this option, and as only a few people out of thousand are so far involved in car sharing in Finland, the growth potential is huge.

“In the debate it is often forgotten that such services are not expected to immediately or necessarily ever replace all privately owned cars,” Vaskelainen concludes.

D.Sc. (B.A.) Taneli Vaskelainen defended his dissertation at the end of August in the Jyväskylä School of Business and Economics, in the subject of environmental management.

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