For Emma Stevens, Car2Go was a blessing.
She had just moved back to Calgary around the time the car-sharing service was introduced to the city in 2012. Whether she was picking up groceries, taking her dog to the park or driving to Banff, she found herself using it multiple times a week, since she didn’t own her own vehicle.
“It made it so much easier for me to accept invitations to things for friends or to get out and do different things in the city,” she said. “I wasn't as contained to my little area.”
However, Share Now – the company that operated Car2Go’s fleet following a merger with Drive Now – pulled its service from Calgary in October.
Then last month, Share Now announced it was removing all of its car-sharing operations from North America due to “rising infrastructure complexities” and “the volatile state of the global mobility industry.” The service will exit Vancouver and Montreal on Feb. 29.
The closing has left Car2Go’s customers scrambling for alternatives and policy makers looking at ways to ensure people have options other than returning to car ownership.
The departure of Car2Go in Vancouver was a disappointment: Car-share is a popular mode of transportation in the city and there are other companies that provide a similar service. But in Calgary, Car2Go was the only car-sharing service available, leaving a critical gap in transportation options for car-free commuters.
Calgary city councillor Evan Woolley has been vocal in his concern. As a new father in a one-car family, he and his wife relied heavily on Car2Go. Since Share Now announced its exit from the city, Mr. Woolley said he has had many conversations with Calgarians about the effects of its departure. He said he has received e-mails from young families expressing financial concerns about possibly needing to buy a car.
“They were the exact same e-mail, basically saying ‘we costed out our savings per month,’ and they all averaged out to the same,” he said. “It was around $400 per month that Car2Go versus vehicle ownership saved them.”
Mr. Woolley said the city has been in discussions with three other car-sharing services that are considering expanding their operations to Calgary.
“I’m hopeful and confident that in the spring of this year, we will see and be able to provide that mobility choice back to Calgary,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ms. Stevens said she’s been having to walk more, take more transit and use ride-sharing. None of them have given her the same convenience that car-sharing did.
“Sometimes it just means I’m not able to do things or to go places,” she said. “Or it’s a superexpensive Uber trip, so I really have to decide whether it’s worth that.”
The situation is less dramatic in Vancouver, where three other car-sharing services – Evo, ZipCar and Modo –are available.
Mike Benn works and lives in downtown Vancouver, and he considers car-sharing to be one of his key transportation options alongside transit, walking and cycling.
“I was sad when I heard [Car2Go was] shutting down,” he said. “I’ve been using them for 7, 8, 9 years, I don't even really know.”
Mr. Benn expects he’ll use more Evo vehicles in its place, but he also expressed concerns that increased Evo usage caused by Car2Go’s departure could lead to less available vehicles and higher prices owing to a lack of competition.
Dave Wharf, senior manager of customer operations at Evo Car Share, said that Evo hopes to expand its fleet in light of Car2Go’s departure, although he doesn’t have any specific numbers yet detailing that increase. He said Evo has no plans to increase its fees or exit the market.
Despite Share Now’s exit from North America, former Car2Go regional director Sandra Phillips says she believes there’s still a viable business model for car sharing.
“Overall car-sharing has grown in North America in the past year,” she said. “We have over 500 cities that have car-sharing services.”
She expects that other car-sharing services in Vancouver will see increased trips, since most Share Now members had memberships with other services.
Lawrence Frank, a population and public health professor at the University of British Columbia, said governments need to consider car-sharing services as a crucial public-policy effort to divorce people from the need to own a car.
“The economic impacts of car dependence and the environmental impacts are massive,” he said.
“Car sharing may be like a key – it opens the door so that you’ve got your car available when you need it, but you’re gonna be then using other modes, more active modes and less carbon-intensive modes to get around as a whole.”
For both Ms. Stevens and Mr. Benn, their decisions on whether to buy a car depends on the availability of car-sharing. Mr. Benn said he could see himself buying a car if Evo ever shuts down, while Car2Go’s exit from Calgary has made Ms. Stevens think differently about car ownership.
“I would be happy to never own a car, and now I think it’s something that’s going to have to happen,” she said.
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