Anyone living in Sydney has experienced the frustration of trying to get around. Major roads are choked by congestion and you can spend more time trying to find a park than going to dinner. Public transport is a real alternative to owning your own car but the system has been neglected for too long. And Sydney’s not the only major city straining under this pressure. Noise pollution in Melbourne’s inner city is driving many residents to form action groups and petition local governments.
How can we step lightly on the earth when our footprint has been replaced by a tyre tread?
The time has arrived in Australia where we need to change the way we think about travel and reduce our dependency on cars. Our environment is suffering, our health is diminishing and it will soon become price-prohibitive with petrol prices soaring. While many of us seek to do our bit by walking, riding bicycles and catching public transport, there are still times when we can’t replace the ease and convenience of a car, so what can we do? Now it seems that an innovative way of solving these problems is staring us in the face.
A proven alternative to private car ownership
Pioneered in Germany in the early 1970s, an exciting alternative to private car ownership has spread across Europe, America and Asia. Called ‘car sharing’, this service gives people access to a fleet of cars parked locally that they can use by the hour. By breaking the connection between owning a car and using a car, this service encourages people to rely on a range of transport options (walking, cycling, public transport) and only select a car when they really need to use one. Car sharing is now common place in over 35 countries with around 400,000 members worldwide.
The Australian experience
The first car sharing service in Australia, GoGet (formerly Newtown CarShare) was launched in June 2003 by CarShare Australia. Commencing with three cars in inner-west Sydney, in just two years there are now over 12 locations with 15 vehicles located around Sydney and Melbourne. Since its introduction, this innovative car sharing service has demonstrated many benefits.
1. Reduced carbon emissions
As people joined the service, a total of over 50 private cars have either been sold or not bought. By breaking this bond of car ownership, there has been an estimated overall drop in car-based travel, which has meant a reduction of around 31,878 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions (this is the amount of emissions that would be produced if you drove from Sydney to Perth and back 18 times!). Members have also said they are now more likely to carefully plan the trips they make in a car rather than using it for short trips they did more out of habit, for example driving to the shops or returning a video around the corner.
2. Reduced the number of cars on local roads
Generally, private cars spend most of the time parked outside someone’s house on in a garage waiting for one or two people to use it maybe a couple of hours a day. Alternatively, one car-share car is typically used by between ten and 20 people. Also, the majority of people who are members of the car sharing service do not have access to off-road parking so there has also been a reduction in the number of cars parked in local streets.
3. Increased sense of local community
By moving from private ownership to shared ownership, people change the way they view and treat a resource. Within the car-share service, the cars belong to the collective of members and therefore members are more conscious of how they use the vehicles and of doing the right thing by the other members. There is also the added community benefit that members of the service often walk or cycle around their local community which increases their sense of connection to the neighbourhood.
4. Helping local businesses
Small businesses often find the cost of maintaining a company car – or cars – prohibitive, making it harder to compete against big companies. By joining the car sharing service, local businesses have gained access to clean reliable cars that are parked nearby and available to use by the hour. This means that rather than investing money in an asset that is not fully utilised, depreciates in value, costs a lot to maintain, they can focus on their business and minimise their operating costs.
5. Increased walking and cycling which delivers greater health benefits
Studies have shown that after joining the car sharing service, members are more likely to walk or cycle somewhere than they were before joining. This increase in physical activity contributes to a greater sense of well-being and improves physical health.
6. Replacing of older cars with new, cleaner cars on our streets
The cars in a car sharing service are new, fuel-efficient vehicles, which means they deliver better environmental outcomes and get people out of older, inefficient vehicles.
It’s time to change focus
In so many ways, our society is driven by individualism and status. These attributes are outwardly expressed by where we live, what we wear and what car we drive. A service like car-sharing may seem to be the antithesis of the modern person, yet we can’t afford to continue down our current path. It’s time to change gear and make that much needed paradigm shift and think about how we use resources rather than how we can abuse them. To create a sustainable future, we need to move away from the monoculture of private cars to a truly real alternative that makes a car a mode of transport rather than a prized possession.
Car-sharing provides people with the opportunity to use a car when they need one and encourages them to use other forms of transports as well. It’s a practical, sensible solution to some of the social and environmental challenges we face today – we just need to be willing to share to show we care.
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