Car-sharing schemes have a lot of promise, in my opinion. Automobiles are extremely useful devices, so people generally want to be able to have access to them. Thus insofar as the only reasonable way to have access to a car is to buy one, people will tend to buy cars. Then, having bought a car and already committed to incurring most of the price of ownership (sale price, insurance, etc.) you may as well drive it a lot. Convenient short-term car rentals change the calculus — the amount you pay is pretty strictly proportional to the amount you drive, so you’ll still drive in circumstances when car-use is genuinely valuable to you, but in other circumstances you won’t drive. That leaves more money in your pocket for other uses and less pollution in the air.
Paris is getting in on the act:
Paris plans to launch the world’s largest electric car access scheme in September of next year. The city is hoping to emulate the popularity of its easy rental system for bicycles, known as Velib.
This time around, Autolib, which stands for auto liberte, will allow Parisians to rent an electric vehicle whenever they need to, with the goal of cutting down on car ownership, traffic and pollution.
I do think it’s a mistake to think programs like this will significantly reduce traffic congestion in major cities. Traffic congestion is caused by the same thing that causes bread lines in the Soviet Union — underpricing of a valuable resource. To curb congestion in a serious way, you need to do congestion pricing. But car-sharing has a lot of virtues.