1 Mar 2018

Car sharing in and around Utrecht

Jeroen writes:*

The greater Utrecht area consists of the city Utrecht and its less densely populated surroundings. This area contains around 54% of all the people employed in the city (a total of almost 260.000), while the city itself is home to less than 30% of its employees. This means that every day, over 180.000 people travel to their work in the city and although the Dutch train system is operating relatively smoothly, the majority of them still prefer going to their work by car.

In 2015, almost 6.700.000 Dutchies owned at least 1 car. This is over half the population (almost 72% of all Dutch households). The greater Utrecht area fits in this with 69% of all households owning at least one car and 16% owning more than one.

40% of the residents of the city say they experience nuisance from cars, including full streets, air- and noise pollution and dangerous situations. The government already had the idea to combat these grievances in the early ‘90s, by promoting car sharing. The government hoped that in 2010, 40% of the travellers by car would use car sharing initiatives, meaning 2 million citizens per year. However, in 2015, around 14.000 cars were actually in ‘sharing circulation’, with around 90.000 users a year, spread out over different platforms, and in the entire country. Currently, the typical care sharer is a highly educated urbanite in his/her 20s and 30s.

Car sharing exists in two forms. Peer-2-Peer car sharing platforms give car owners the ability to rent out their car when they do not need to use it. Gas is usually for the users account, and you pay extra per kilometre if you drive above a certain distance. ‘Classical’ company owned car sharing gives users access to their entire fleet (which usually have set parking spaces), for a standard fee. It is not unusual for their cars to contain pay cards with which gas can be bought. Some well known examples are Greenwheels, Car2Go and ConnectCar. In the municipality alone, there are already 1500 cars open for sharing, with around 300 being managed by companies, parked and waiting for users.

Although the idea of car sharing seems sound and rational (since cars tend to stand still for about 23 hours a day) it raises some questions. For instance, are car sharing initiatives the best ways to counteract the negative externalities caused by cars? The tax incentive to use cars less get diminished by companies who bundle all the costs to a monthly fee, thus decreasing the effectiveness of for instance gasoline taxes, because the user does not ‘directly’ pay for it. And although it is great that people who own cars can rent them out, and thus making better use of the cars on the street, are companies filling up the already few parking spots in city with new, ‘ownerless’ cars really helping by making cars more readily available to a segment of the population that is used to using public transport and the bike? Will it not be more beneficial to incentivize people to use the public transport, by investing in clearer, cleaner and more regular connections?

Bottom line: The massive amount of people owning and using cars can cause big problems for a dense city like Utrecht, next to the harmful effects it has in general, and thus, car sharing seems like a logical way to reduce this. But does it not unintentionally create more problems?

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)