One of the core principles of many groups wishing to start a project or community is to minimise their ecological impact. Many elements of our lifestyles are dependent on resources which strain the environment. One of the key characteristics of modern day life is the frequent use of cars for transport. This is a reflection of increasingly individualistic lifestyles. It strains the built environment through congestion and the natural environment through emissions. There are alternatives which are more ecologically and economically favourable, such as various forms of public transport or even better, bicycles! However, the level of public transport infrastructure varies widely from place to place, and many settlements are far from facilities or work places. In this case, cars become a necessity. An effective option is car sharing as an alternative, which fully utilises the car, creates opportunities to share a journey with others, reduces the amount of cars on the road, and distributes the costs of owning a car.
One possibility could be to join an official car sharing agency that offers car sharing in different cities. There is usually not car sharing in rural areas, but if a community has enough people that want to use it, some car sharing agencies could be approached to install a car share, even in a small village. Another possibility is to self-organize a car sharing system for the community. This usually works quite well, even with privately owned cars.
Impact on the individual level
Not having to organise and consult with others to go grocery shopping or regularly commute to work may make it seem more efficient and autonomous to have one’s own car. Resistance can also occur due to issues around cleaning the car after use, making sure there is petrol, ensuring the car is returned in time, and of course, accepting that there may be times when you need a car, but it is in use by someone else. However, whether you are joining an existing formal care share scheme or thinking about implementing your own system to share privately owned cars, the benefits on the individual level are numerous! It gives another chance to connect with others in your community. Mundane errands can become special moments or fun adventures! Furthermore, the individual costs of running a car can be very high, not just from the initial costs, but also from parking fees, petrol and maintenance. Through car sharing, these costs are shared, becoming much more manageable.
Influence of the community level
Car sharing in community can be a useful tool to bring a community together, not just at events of celebration or business. For example, for a community to have five cars which are fully utilised is clearly far more beneficial than each person owning their own car, driving around with three spare seats simply because the community has not implemented a strategy for car sharing. This reduces the community’s carbon footprint significantly as a whole, and if you are planning to have a shared economy, this will also align with various systems. Furthermore, some car share schemes allow you to view when and where other users are making trips so you may contact them to join and share the cost.
The key question is, what is your intention as a community? Do you have a strong focus on reducing your carbon footprint? Do you wish to use your resources more effectively? Would you like to cultivate more day-to-day communal activities?
The basics of such a system could look like this:
Agree on shared rules of how to organize the reserving of cars, payment and the liability for any damage that might happen with the cars.
Find a place (real or virtual) where the cars can be reserved by everyone.
Find a place, where the keys of the cars are stored.
Provide a driver’s log in all cars which are part of the car share.
Every member of the car sharing community should sign an agreement with the basic rules about the car sharing. Then, they can reserve any of the cars and use them when they need. This works well if the cars are commonly owned (for instance by the organisation that is also the central organisation of the community). If you have a car share with privately owned cars, it is on one hand easier to establish, and, on the other hand a little more complicated, as owners usually want to have special rights for using their private cars.
The clearest way for communication is to always ask the owner, which is easy to achieve in small communities but does not function as easily in bigger communities. It is important to have a set of calendars (or a website) where cars can be reserved. It is also possible to agree on special rights for the owners.
The “24-hour-rule” of Sieben Linden car sharing:
In Sieben Linden, there are 10 cars in the car share, of which eight are privately owned. If people want to reserve them for several days or for a special point in time that is more than 24 hours away, they need to speak with and get consent from the owner. But for spontaneous use of cars, everyone can just reserve a car and use it within the next 24 hours. If the owner then wants to use a car, he or she must look for another car from the carpool. With enough cars in the carpool, this usually works quite well.
Concerning liability, there are different ways of handling it. Usually, the driver will be responsible for any damage that happens to the car during their usage. If there is the possibility that the damage is higher than what the driver can pay, the group needs to look at this issue and find solutions for it. Some solutions include:
the easiest way is if every car has a comprehensive insurance so that any damage will be covered by the insurance.
with some creativity, many different ways for “internal insurances” can be found, which might be cheaper than official insurances.
Example for “internal insurance”:
Every user of the car-sharing deposes a certain sum (the value of the most expensive car divided by the number of users could be a reference-point) as “comprehensive insurance” on a common account. If an accident happens, this money is used for covering the costs.
From the money that everyone pays per km, a small amount, like 0,02 €/km can go into this fund, so that it is always refilling. If the fund has “too much money”, this money can be used to invest in something that supports the mobility of the community. If it’s not enough, the amount paid per km needs to be increased.
In the driver’s log, everyone writes down how many kilometers they have used the car, and, after a certain period of time, the owners write a bill to all the users. In some sample communities, the price per km differs between 0,20 and 0,35 Euros per km, including fuel.
If people refill the fuel tank, they give the bill to the owner, and these expenses are subtracted from the bill for the kilometers. The price per km depends on the value and depreciation of the car, the costs for insurance and taxes, the consumption and the price of fuel, the need for repairing, and, importantly, the frequency with which the car will be used. A car that is only used once in a while is much more expensive per km than a car that is being driven every day.