The Paradox of Car Sharing: Fewer Cars, Busier Roads

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

by: Qurius

Is car ownership becoming a thing of the past? As well as autonomous driving, car sharing is an up-and-coming trend. But, paradoxically, although this may mean fewer cars in Europe, it also means busier roads. Let us explain.

Owning a car was once a status symbol, but car sharing is likely to become increasingly common in the future. One of the many advantages is that fewer cars are better for the environment. A recent study showed that car sharing in the Netherlands reduces CO2 emissions by an extra 230 to 320 kg a year. It also looked at the lifespan of shared cars. These vehicles are used intensively for a short period of time (3.9 years on average) compared with privately owned cars (17.3 years). Their short lifespan means that more raw materials and energy are required for the manufacture and dismantling, but their use nevertheless results in a reduction in carbon emissions.

As car sharing gains a foothold, more cars will have to be made, in turn increasing profits for car manufacturers; no wonder they are fervent advocates of the idea. But by 2050, it is expected that the number of cars in Germany will be halved once car sharing becomes the norm, and in Europe, the total number of cars will drop from 208 million to 200 million by 2030. One car share start-up has even predicted that one shared car could replace 17 privately owned cars!

However, if you think car sharing is the answer to traffic hold-ups, think again. A shared car clocks up approximately 4 times as many kilometers as a privately-owned car, again making roads busier. The ease of using a shared car could also lower our motivation to walk, cycle or take the bus. Those who would normally use public transport might ultimately prefer to opt for the comfort of a shared car.

Another point to bear in mind is that for car sharing to work, people must be prepared to share. Car sharing in the Netherlands is popular, with 59% using the system for leisure and 68% for work. In the Netherlands, car ownership is not regarded as a must. Germany, however, is a country of car owners who like to be in control of the vehicle they’re in. To illustrate the difference in attitudes around the world, only 54% of Germans are prepared to try car sharing, compared with 84% in China, where the majority of people do not own a car anyway.

Car sharing is also likely to increase with the advent of autonomous cars. Both are significant developments in mobility, but the increasingly heavy traffic they would create might well be a problem. Furthermore, although car sharing remains attractive as it means no initial financial investment, we must ask ourselves if it’s really what we want. Did we not intend to start walking or cycling to work more often? Or to make more use of public transport instead of always travelling by car? It seems that for the time being, it’s anyone’s guess.

This blog inspired was inspired by this article in Dutch:

De Paradox van Carsharing-minder auto’s maar drukkere wegen