Let's face facts: If you live in a city such as Toronto, owning a car can be a massive pain. In certain parts of the downtown core, a task as simple as finding a parking spot close to home or near your intended destination has the capacity to trigger stress. If you do find a spot, prepare to pay a pretty penny for it. If you happen to run afoul of the parking authorities for any number of reasons, prepare to pay even more.
Then, there's the simple fact that commuting times within the downtown core are ridiculous. It's not uncommon for a 5-kilometre drive across town to take 20, 30, 45 minutes – your guess is as good as anyone's. The combination of too many cars and not enough open roads has driven people to embrace public transit in Toronto, such as it is, because it's the proverbial lesser of two evils. This is why real estate experts stress the importance of living within 800 metres (the outer limits of desired walking distance) from the nearest subway stop.
The above reasons, combined with the high cost of car ownership, have given rise to a number of modern commuting phenomena in Toronto, including dedicated bicycle lanes, Uber and car-sharing services. By and large, the smart money says we should embrace these changes because they're inevitable in a city with global aspirations.
Now, there's a new trend on the horizon – not car-sharing, per se, but shared car ownership. For a couple living in the west end, it's been the ideal solution to their transportation needs.
In many ways, Jillian Dickens and Chris Johns are prototypical young Toronto homeowners. Both are entrepreneurs. Jillian is the co-owner of Bannikin Travel & Tourism, a consulting company to adventure travel providers. Chris is a food and travel writer. They have a young daughter. They live within striking distance of transit.
More to the point, they have no need for a car all the time. "Chris and I wanted to start getting away for the weekends more," Dickens says, "but [we] didn't want to have a car full-time just to use it for a couple weekends a month."
The couple had explored other options, including a Zipcar membership (too expensive) and more traditional rental car arrangements (inconvenient hours and locations). When they're in town, they live close enough to amenities to walk, bike or use transit. Jillian was already keen on the fractional ownership model based on discussions with friends about purchasing a cottage together.
This led her to introduce the idea of owning a car together with an upstairs neighbour and family friend, Russell Slater. The plan fell together quickly from there and it's been more than three years of shared ownership bliss ever since.
"It was pretty simple all around, but I think that's because we did this with someone who was on the same page," Dickens says. "We think the same way and look at things practically. I can't actually think of any point this has been difficult."
From a logistics standpoint, there were hurdles to overcome. The lease agreement for their Mazda3 had to be in Jillian's name alone; unrelated people who don't live at the same address can't be on the same agreement. The insurance policy had to cover all three drivers, so it was a bit more costly. All leasing, insurance and maintenance costs are divided equally between the two households. And the agreement, which began when they were all neighbours, thrived even after Jillian and Chris moved to a new location a 15-minute walk away. The original schedule called for everyone to have free access to the car during the week on an as-needed basis and each household reserving alternate weekends. Now, the schedule sees the Mazda move from one parking spot to the other on alternate weeks.
"[The arrangement has] worked really well for us," Jillian says. "We live in the downtown core, close to the subway and everything is really close, so having the car is a bonus when we have it, but is usually not necessary." To make sure everyone is on the same page, the trio had a written agreement drawn up, a document that includes contingencies in case someone wants out of the deal.
For car manufacturers, arrangements such as this may be worrisome – they may represent a gap in the market. Some manufacturers have already made investments to ensure they don't get left behind.
Mercedes-Benz launched the Car2Go car-sharing service in 2008 and has locations in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. BMW introduced DriveNow in 2011, an offering that has yet to make its way to Canada. This year, General Motors has started betting big on car-sharing as well, investing $500-million (U.S.) in the Uber-like Lyft and launching a new car-sharing brand called Maven. Peugeot and VW have also experimented with such programs in Europe.
A report by Navigant Research pegged global car-sharing membership numbers at 2.3 million in 2013 and predicted this number would rise to 12 million by 2020.
But an independently organized fractional ownership scheme is another form of car-sharing altogether, the middle ground between outright ownership and membership in traditional car-sharing memberships. If urban dwellers such as Dickens, Johns and Slater can find common ground and a more perfect solution to their transportation needs, there's no telling how many more could do the same.
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