March 5th, 2013


General Counsel, Lyft

Co-founder and CEO, Sidecar

Co-Director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley

CEO, City CarShare


Carpooling of old has morphed into real-time ride sharing with total strangers and car sharing among consumers looking to escape the burdens of car ownership. Emerging business models are challenging policy makers to take a new look at the shared mobility space. What’s driving the change, and where is it headed?

Susan Shaheen, co-director of Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, proposed to write her doctoral dissertation on "smart" car sharing, but her dissertation committee said there was no way Americans would give up their cars. Shaheen conducted the studies and wrote that dissertation because, “I thought there might a chance. And I never looked back.”

ForSunil Paul, CEO of SideCar, the idea of car sharing came as an epiphany back in 1997. He and his wife shared one car, and he was considering getting a second one when—waiting for a ride to work—he thought: “Some day my phone will know where I am and all these people driving by, their phones will know where they are, and some day we’re going to rethink transportation around this idea.”

Today the shared mobility space incorporates a variety of business models, from shared use of a vehicle fleet by paying members, to individuals using their own cars for ride sharing, to a one-way concept where individuals take a vehicle from one location to another.

Paul spoke of three major drivers: (1) technology, principally smart phone platforms that allow sharing across multiple publishing options; (2) growing public interest in clean transportation; and (3) the political will to try new things because of climate change and energy security issues.

According to Kristin Sverchek, head of public policy at zimride and lyft, some members of zimride are simply looking for the opportunity to make a little extra money, but most believe in a longer vision, which includes reduced net miles traveled and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Rick Hutchinson, CEO of City CarShare, said, “about two-thirds of our members say they either sold a car or delayed buying a car once they joined us.” He added that, in 2012, City CarShare “saved about 80 million pounds of CO2 emissions.”

Regarding impacts, Shaheen pointed to a recent study that showed that one car-sharing vehicle takes 9 to 13 vehicles off the road and actually causes people to sell 4 to 6 vehicles of those 9-13. The total net effect is positive toward the environment—a 43% reduction in CO2 emissions.

Automakers are getting involved as well. Daimler and BMW offer vehicles for one-way trips. According to Shaheen, “there’s an opportunity for them to develop a new core competency in their business, called mobility services.” She went on to say that the role of the auto industry is changing as well as the role of the car rental.

What about regulations? This is a new medium that needs new rules, said Paul. He spoke of the expense of engaging with regulators in response to cease and desist orders from the PUC in a number of states. “We’re not saying there’s no role for government but we want to enable it rather than thwart it.”

Shaheen now tracks numbers for the industry. “We just did our data collection for January 2013, and America has passed the million mark for car-sharing members.” That includes Mexico, Canada, and the US, with the US at about 820K members. “Since we started our tracking efforts in the late ’90s, we’ve never seen a decline. We’ve seen ongoing growth. I do think that this service could scale much bigger than what we have today, and one of the concerns I have is how do we look at this from a public policy standpoint to make it more possible to grow those numbers even bigger.”

Susan Shaheen, co-director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley
Rick Hutchinson, CEO, City CarShare
Sunil Paul, CEO, SideCar
Kristin Sverchek, head of public policy at zimride and lyft