Photo: Zipcar sign

Want to run errands at lunch? Have a business meeting? Spouse has the car for the day? Try carsharing.

A carsharing membership is a great resource for people who occasionally need a car but don't want the expense and/or trouble of car ownership. Carsharing programs provide access to a fleet of vehicles for short term use (priced by the hour or even minute), located conveniently throughout the community and with most if not all costs (gas, insurance, etc.) bundled into the rate. In essence, carsharing transforms the automobile from a product with high fixed costs into a service with costs on a time or mileage basis. When used in conjunction with public transportation, walking or bicycling, carsharing can reduce or eliminate the need to own a personal vehicle. For families, carsharing can postpone or eliminate the need to buy a second car. For businesses, participation in a carsharing program can reduce or eliminate the need to store and maintain company cars, or to require employees to bring their personal cars to work.

Carsharing Benefits

Some important benefits of carsharing include:

Lower demand for parking. Surveys consistently report that each carsharing vehicle replaces as many as seven or more private cars, as members sell or scrap their cars, or avoid buying new ones. When fewer cars need to be parked, it makes parking easier for cars that still do.

Fewer miles driven and emissions produced. While surveys suggest that carshare members are often infrequent car users to begin with (taking advantage of other transportation options available in urban areas), once people start carsharing they report driving less. Carshare vehicles also tend to be newer and more fuel efficient than the household cars they replace, which means fewer emissions produced for each mile driven.

Lower transportation costs. For people who drive infrequently, the fixed costs of car ownership are a majority of the costs associated with driving. By switching from personal car ownership to carsharing membership, these infrequent drivers could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.

Personal non-monetary benefits of carsharing include:

  • New vehicles (reliability and comfort)
  • No maintenance or repair responsibilities
  • Vehicles always clean
  • Different vehicles for different purposes (whereas private owners have the same car all the time)
  • Convenient locations where people live and work
  • Guaranteed parking space (*not all business models)

Carsharing Service Providers

There are several business and organizational models that underpin carsharing services in the U.S. today: for-profit entities (majority of what you see in the DC metro area), non-profit entities, cooperatives, and government-run services are some of those models.

car2go - car2go has a fleet of blue and white Smartfortwo vehicles located in Washington, DC (since 2012), and Arlington, VA (starting in September 2015). There are no designated stations or parking spaces. Members locate cars with a web or smartphone app and use their member card or smartphone app to get in. Members are billed for minutes used, with no set return time. At the end of the trip, Arlington fleet vehicles must be parked in a legal on-street space in Arlington, while DC fleet vehicles must be parked in a legal on street space in DC. Within the car’s “home zone”, parking is free to the driver, with those costs (along with gas, insurance, maintenance, etc.) bundled into the rate. More information from

Enterprise CarShare – Enterprise Rent-A-Car is America’s car rental company dating back to 1957, and started car sharing as a natural extension of its rental program and longtime focus on customized local service. Enterprise CarShare uses technology and an award-winning service record to deliver speed, efficiency and economy to people who need a car at a moment’s notice.

Zipcar - Hundreds of Zipcars are parked in convenient locations throughout the region. Members reserve a nearby car online or by phone, then use an electronic membership card to unlock the car. The rental period can be as little as one hour. Members return the car to the same reserved parking spot where they picked it up. Zipcar members can also use their membership in the many other cities in the U.S. and abroad that Zipcar serves.

Peer-to-Peer Carsharing

Peer-to-peer carsharing programs provide a means for car owners to rent out otherwise underutilized personal vehicles. These programs typically screen would-be drivers and provide insurance for the car owners in the event that their car is involved in an accident while being used by a carsharing member. Examples of existing peer-to-peer networks include:

Getaround - Rent a car from someone nearby.

Relay Rides - Rent cars from people near you.

Carsharing Resources

Arlington's Car-Free Diet Carsharing page

Why Should Local Governments Care About Carsharing?
Mobility Lab, September 6, 2013
As local governments confront the questions of whether, how, and how much to be involved in these enterprises, it is worth thinking about why local governments would care about – and want to support (or at least not deter) – elements of the sharing economy. PDF version, 303 KB, Adobe Reader required.

Offer Travel Options for Every Trip — Give Everyone Choices
Howard Jennings, February 1, 2007, Mobility Lab
Surveys show that the option of carsharing motivates commuters to use transit more often (40% to 54% agree), helps commuters save money on transportation (62% to 70% agree), and motivates them to walk more often (37% to 54% agree).

Arlington County Carshare Program Study, 2006
This research study was the follow-up tracking wave to the initial Pilot Carshare Study conducted in April 2005. Since then, the Arlington County Carshare Program has become a permanent transportation service. This study measured Carshare Members’ feelings and opinions of the program. The results helped assess the overall effectiveness of the Carshare program.

Arlington Pilot Carshare Program First-Year Report, 2005
In March 2004, the Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) unit of the Department of Environmental Services partnered with the two carshare companies —Flexcar and Zipcar—to provide expanded carshare services and promotions called the Arlington Pilot Carshare Program. This report documents the success of the program, and makes the case for replicating the program in other Arlington urban villages to make it a permanent part of the transportation landscape in Arlington.

Did You Know?

Arlington County is one of only 15 Gold-level Walk Friendly Communities in the U.S.

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