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Car Sharing Is Changing How We Consume

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What a difference 10 months can make.

On July 21 of 2012 Car2Go came to Alberta. Specifically it came to 93 square kilometers of Calgary's inner core. The on-demand car sharing service charges $0.38 a minute to use one of its 300 bright blue and white Smart Cars. With over 300 of them it's easy to find and book a car using a smart phone app. Swipe your member card across a data card reader located behind the wind screen and off you go.

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The big selling point here is convenience; gas, maintenance, insurance and parking. Oh yes, parking. In a city with downtown parking rates that are second only to New York in North America the convenience of being able to just drop your car off in any City of Calgary spot is invigorating.

"People have responded amazingly. They've embraced it with open arms within the first 60 days for Car2Go in Calgary we had 15,000 people sign up right away," says location manager Jon Wycoco.

The smartphone wow factor is not to be underestimated. Using the app to find the nearest car and even being given walking directions to the nearest one was pretty impressive. The app even tells you how much gas is left in the tank. Run by Daimler, the group behind Mercedes Benz, Car2Go is also in Toronto, Vancouver and 14 other cities around the world.

They're also gaining steam -- Car2Go has 275,000 members around the world. World there are 1.7 million car sharing members in 27 countries. Car sharing competitor Zipcar currently sits atop the leaderboard with 767,000 members.

Collaborative Consumption

Car sharing is the most outwardly popular expression of a simple idea that's changing how we consume. It's called collaborative consumption.

Did you know a typical power drill will only be used 12 to 13 minutes in its entire lifetime? It's much the same for the average private vehicle -- it's parked 23 hours a day.

In an absurd way this inefficient use of resource is actually kind of funny. Especially when all we really want is a hole drilled or to visit a friend's house without having to take the bus.

Collaborative consumption has been popularized by author and researcher Rachel Botsman in a famous TED talk and book What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

"I don't want the DVD; I want the movie it carries. I don't want a clunky answering machine; I want the message it saves. I don't want a CD; I want the music it plays. In other words, I don't want stuff; I want the experience it fulfills," says Botsman.

"One of the biggest selling points for Car2Go is the convenience factor. You can take a car from Point A to Point B and you only pay by the minute. So it's an on-demand system that allows you to use a Car2Go vehicle for parking, fuel, maintenance and insurance are all included in the rate," says Jon Wycoco, the location manager for Car2Go in Calgary.

Mobility and convenience -- that's what a car offers and boy, do we Canadians love our cars.

According to Andrew Coyne's amazing article on road pricing and my personal experiences traffic is slowly strangling our cities.

"Indeed, for sheer mind-numbing, soul-destroying aggravation, traffic in our largest cities can compete with any in the developed world," says Coyne. According to a Toronto Board of Trade study Toronto's rank in commuting times compared to 19 major cities was dead last. Other Canadian cities didn't do so hot either. Montreal was 18th, Vancouver 14th, Calgary 13th, Halifax 10th.

And congestion isn't just aggravating it's bad for your economic health. A 2006 Transport Canada study put a number on the cost of congestion -- $6.7 billion. A 2008 estimate from Toronto's regional transportation authority Metrolinx pegged the cost of congestion at $6 billion just for the region alone. All of that wasted time stuck in traffic means a ton of wasted energy and unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

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Saving energy and money

But fear not, car sharing is one of a group of strategies you can use to combat city and soul-destroying congestion. A single car sharing vehicle can take anywhere from four to 30 cars off the road according to an American study sponsored by the U.S. federal and California departments of transportation.

Car sharing can liberate people from owning a car altogether or stop them from buying a second car. And some smaller studies have even shown that car sharing can spark a change in behaviour.

In a 2009 Zipcar study the company took 250 self-described car addicts and had them give up their keys and walk, use public transportation and use their Zipcar membership only as a last resort for an entire month. Not only did the participants cumulatively drop over 400 pounds in total, but over 100 people did not want their keys back.

Car sharing is also a more effective use of all of the steel and energy needed to manufacture the car in the first place. The less time it sits in a garage and the more time it's being used for its actual purpose the better.

And if you're worried about your transportation budget car sharing is a simple way to save. The average costs of car ownership in Canada come to about $7,500 according to the Canadian Automobile Association. That's enough money to drive a Car2Go smart car 54 minutes a day, every day of the year. And that's at the most expensive, per minute rate.

This smart, effective approach to transportation is spreading across the country like a happy little virus. Car2Go is in also in Toronto and Vancouver. Both Toronto and Vancouver are home to three different car sharing companies. Even Ottawa and Kingston have a car sharing service.

Have you used a car share? How was your experience? Do you want one in your city after reading this article? Let us know in the comments.