Whether it’s because the communal spirit is alive and well in Vancouver, or we’re just natural cheapskates, or this city is so crowded and expensive to live in that people can’t afford to own a car, the car-sharing phenomenon has clearly taken root here. Vancouver is home to three car-sharing organizations; between them there are some 800 vehicles scattered throughout the city, with more to come. The numbers are up right across the board: more users, more vehicles, more territories, and more choices.
“Vancouver has been a really great place for car2go,” offers Katie Stafford, that company’s marketing director. “Vancouver was the second city in North America for us and almost from the beginning, utilization has been high.” Car2go, owned by Daimler North America, has gone from 225 cars in the beginning to 400 these days—all Smart cars—and recently expanded its territory to include the North Shore. More than 21,000 people have memberships in car2go—up from the 5,000 in the first year of 2011.
“I call it ‘collaborative consumption’,” adds Stafford. “More people seem to want access to services without necessarily owning something. It’s almost like experience over ownership, and technology has allowed us all to share things like never before.”
Stafford notes that typical usage of a car2go Smart car is 30 minutes or less, and at this point, that is the only vehicle available, although that could change. Word of mouth is a big reason for car2go’s success in Vancouver, and, in a weird twist of fate, the hockey riot of 2011 heightened the company’s visibility: one of the first vehicles flipped over by rampaging punks and captured on film was a car2go Smart car, an image that went global almost immediately.
“Coincidentally, that was the very same day we officially launched in Vancouver,” Stafford says with a laugh.
With arguably the widest variety of vehicles of all three organizations, ZipCar has been doing business in Vancouver since 2007 and offers just about everything, from hybrids to full-size cargo vans. “If you need to move or have to bring something home from IKEA, we have Ford F-150 vans as well as pickup trucks,” offers public-relations associate, Jen Mathews. “Usage for us is up globally, and we like to think that for every one of our cars being used, 10 to 15 personally owned vehicles have been taken off the road.” ZipCar’s stable includes sporty-type cars, like Audis and BMWs, and the company has outlets in cities throughout North America and Europe.
After undergoing a “rebrand” and name change in 2011, Modo the Car Co-Op upgraded its fleet to include more fuel-efficient cars and is the only full cooperative doing business here. Marketing director Hilary Henegar has the enthusiasm of a believer and sees Modo as just being part of a bigger cooperative movement, one that will involve virtually every aspect of people’s lives.
“We are the only organization that puts its profits right back into the fleet,” she explains. “But we see ourselves as part of a multimodal transportation network...complementing other forms of transportation, such as biking and public transit. We aren’t just a silver bullet.…but part of a broader change.” That includes sharing goods, services, and skills throughout Vancouver.
Like ZipCar, Modo offers a variety of vehicles—from vans to pickup trucks to conventional sedans, but is moving more and more toward environmentally friendly vehicles. “Eleven percent of our fleet are hybrid or electric vehicles,” says Henegar,
Typical Modo users, says Henegar, tend to be 35 years of age or under, although “everyone uses us”, and are primarily urban dwellers. Most have either given up their own personal vehicles or never owned one in the first place and tend not to drive to work. The majority of users also tend to live in dense urban neighbourhoods and need a vehicle for local usage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go on a road trip. Modo’s fleet insurance covers both Canada and the U.S. With some 280 vehicles in the Vancouver fleet, Modo is hoping to increase that number to 300 by the end of the year.
“Vancouver users are well-served,” adds Henegar. “It’s not unusual for people to have membership in all three car-sharing organizations at once. There is much local happiness when it comes to car sharing.”
Unfortunately, access to car sharing is not everywhere. You can get a vehicle in the city, but you can’t leave it curbside in places like Delta, Surrey, or Langley when you’re done. It must be returned to its Vancouver location.
That could change.