Car sharing: what convinces you?

For what reasons would people want to share a car with their neighbors instead of driving their own car? PhD candidate Michelle Lohmeyer from the University of Groningen investigates what people think about car sharing and what their experiences are. And is it actually more sustainable?

For her dissertation, Michelle Lohmeyer followed three groups of local residents in North Holland for over a year. They participated in the Car of the Street pilot run by the Nature & Environment organization. Each group of about 10 to 20 people had access to two electric cars that they could use for a reduced rate of € 2.50 per hour.

Lohmeyer’s research is part of the NWO SMiLES research project, which is also connected to Hive.Mobility. Her research focuses on people who share a car together, not on the type of car sharing via apps from companies such as Greenwheels and MyWheels.

She sent questionnaires to the pilot participants: in advance, in the middle and afterwards. She also wanted to get a national picture of how people view car sharing. To this end, she asked members of neighborhood associations to complete a questionnaire – about 300 people did so.

Money, convenience and climate

For example, they were asked whether they thought car sharing would be cheaper and whether they would therefore want to try it. “It turns out that people don’t really care if it saves them money,” she says. She also asked whether they thought using a shared car would be user-friendly and easy to fit into their daily routine. The respondents thought this was very important and a relatively high percentage – 33 percent – thought positively about it.

She further asked whether the environment and climate were an important motivation. Lohmeyer: “The fact that it is a green option appeals to many people, also the fact that it gives you an environmentally conscious image. But people find it even more important how their neighborhood can improve if there are fewer cars on the street and there is more space for greenery and cycle paths.”

Hassle with the neighbors

Some participants decided to continue with car sharing after the pilot, the researcher says. However, many participants decided to stop during the project and there were also some people who ultimately did not use the shared cars. She still wants to investigate the reasons behind this. “If people have a negative experience, they can quickly drop out and that is a shame. Gaining insight into this is therefore important.”

For example, half of the participants were positive about the cooperation with their neighbors, the other half was not: for example, the car was left dirty or not returned on time. Other participants found the fact that you have to reserve the car via an app not useful, because you cannot spontaneously take the car or stay somewhere longer because someone else booked the car after you.

Sell your own car

Lohmeyer also asked the participants in advance whether they planned to sell their own car and at the end whether they had done so. Two of the participants had sold their cars. She wants to investigate further why some participants intended to sell their car, but did not.

Lohmeyer herself grew up in rural Germany. “Initiatives like Greenwheels and MyWheels do not work well in rural areas because there are not enough cars around,” she explains. “The number of newly purchased cars outside the cities is increasing, so it is interesting to see whether other forms of car sharing are possible there, such as in this pilot.”

To make car sharing in rural areas a success, it is important that public transport is available as a backup, just like in the cities, she emphasizes. “Otherwise people won’t sell their own cars.” She would be interested in a shared car to visit her parents in Germany – they live in a place that is very difficult to reach by public transport. However, car sharing is now more focused on short trips.

Is it really greener?

More and more research is being done into sharing means of transport: shared bicycles, shared scooters and also shared cars. This mainly focuses on the question of why people use it. In her research, Lohmeyer also looks at the question to what extent car sharing is actually more environmentally friendly – surprisingly enough, this is not always the case.

If more people share their cars, fewer cars need to be produced and therefore fewer people will buy a new car. There are also fewer cars parked and therefore more space for greenery. However, car sharing can sometimes actually cause an increase in CO2 emissions: “If households start to see the shared car as an extra car and therefore take the car more instead of using public transport or cycling,” she explains. In the pilot she conducted research into, this turned out not to be so bad, but she also wants to investigate this further.

Car sharing can ultimately certainly contribute to greening mobility, the PhD candidate thinks, but she says: “To make these types of initiatives a success, it is important that we know how we can prevent bad experiences for participants. And that we find out in which cases people start selling their own cars.”