Sustainable transport: The rise of car sharing

Car sharing is increasingly becoming a popular choice for urban commuters globally. Singapore’s plan to test electric vehicles through car sharing offer both opportunities and challenges as the island-nation strives for efficient management of space and resources

Singapore transport cars
Singapore's compact nature and relatively small size offers opportunities to maximise energy-efficient transport solutions. Image: Shutterstock

Car sharing has recently emerged as a popular form of alternative transport, especially in space-constrained cities where the cost of transport is high.

Singapore is one city in Asia where the popularity of car sharing has grown due to increasing congestion. Car sharing also offers an alternative for commuters who cannot afford traditional car ownership. There are currently about 300 car sharing services in over 100 locations across the island, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on its website.

It is a form of collaborative consumption, a growing movement that promotes the sharing of access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership, addressing the issues of cost as well as space and of course, carbon footprints.

The LTA recently announced that it may involve car sharing schemes in further trials for electric vehicles in the city-state. LTA and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) have concluded the first phase of its EV test-bed at the end of last year. The programme, which started in 2011, was set up to test and gauge the viability of different commercially available EV models and charging technologies.

The country is conducive to EVs despite its limited range due to its compact nature and relatively small size.

Global growth

In a study being conducted by University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC), car sharing worldwide is presently operating in 27 countries and five continents, accounting for an estimated 1,788,000 members sharing over 43,550 vehicles.

North America remains the largest car sharing region, with Europe and North America accounting for 38.7 per cent and 50.8 per cent of worldwide car sharing membership, respectively.

“Since 1994, 75 car sharing programmes have been deployed in North America — 46 are operational and 29 are defunct. As of January 1, 2013, there were 20 active programmess in Canada, 25 in the United States, and one in Mexico, with 1,033,564 car sharing members sharing 15,603 vehicles in North America,” said author Susan Shaheen in a market outlook report published by TSRC.

Shaheen’s earlier research cited car sharing efforts started small scale in Europe and one of the earliest European experiences with car sharing can be traced to a cooperative, known as “Sefage” in Zurich, Switzerland in 1948. The main motivation was economics as individuals who could not afford to purchase a car shared one instead. More recent and successful experiences with car sharing began in Europe in the mid-1980s.

In Asia and other emerging economies, there are no fixed data on the presence of car sharing schemes. But other research cited the trend has started in several cities including São Paulo, Brazil (2009); Beijing, China (2009); Hangzhou, China (2011); Istanbul, Turkey (2011); Mexico City (2012); and Bangalore, India (2013).

Car sharing scheme operators could be ideal adopters of EVs since it allows consumers to try the vehicles on a per-use basis without needing to pay the high upfront costs of owning an EV

Car-Sharing Association of Singapore

Car sharing with EV in a compact city

Speaking at the Asia Smart Grid conference as part of the Singapore International Energy Week late last year, Eugene Ng, Director, Urban Solutions, Bosch Software Innovations (Singapore) noted the use of more than one mode of transport – including the option of car sharing – can become more commonplace in a single journey to solve issues of congestion, environmental concerns and population pressure.

“The lifestyle changes of people actually allow different mix of transportation to be offered,” Ng said.

With technological advancements, Ng pointed out that smartphone applications have the potential to make intermodal transportation easier. From one transport mode to another and where public transports are not available, the use of mobile applications could give passengers the option to book a “car share” to complete the journey, Ng explained.

Robert Bosch SEA, which was the provider of charging infrastructure for the EV test-bed in Singapore, also offers access to a mobile app provided by the company’s Software Innovations division. The app comprises a map to locate a charging station and displays its availability in real time, amongst others.

The application complements the car sharing concept by providing users with information about the availability and location of charging stations, and allowing commuters to book and pay for their vehicles.

Car sharing scheme operators could be ideal adopters of EVs since it allows consumers to try the vehicles on a per-use basis without needing to pay the high upfront costs of owning an EV, said the Car-Sharing Association of Singapore (CSAS).

“One of the aims of the CSAS is to introduce and promote the adoption of new and clean automotive technology in the car sharing industry and EV fits the bill nicely,” CSAS president Lai Meng told Eco-Business. 

However, CSAS said the upfront cost of EV is very high and there is no infrastructure yet to support EV car sharing, as many car sharing stations are at Singapore’s public housing – multi-storey car parks where installations of the charging stations are not supported.

The association said the Singapore government should intervene in improving EV infrastructure and subsidising the initial costs of EV beyond the Enhanced Technology Innovation Development scheme (TIDES-PLUS) since it is not commercially viable to add EV to its fleet offerings at competitive costs.

The TIDES-PLUS scheme waives all vehicular taxes such as additional registration fees, certificate of entitlement, road tax and excise duty, for the purposes of research and development and test-bedding of transport technologies. Under the TIDES-PLUS scheme, EV participants are able to enjoy a tax waiver for up to six years.

“I believe if the market factors are conducive, the car sharing industry would progressively introduce EV over the next few years to benefit from the continuous improvements in the battery and battery management technology,” Lai explained.

“It is not wise for the car sharing industry to adopt en-mass a single technological generation as any defect or deficiency in a particular technological generation would mean missing out on the benefits of the advancement or facing a genetic shortcoming that is irreversible for the entire car-sharing EV fleet,” the car sharing group official said.

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