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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Co-op Wheels

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday May 14, 06:13 pm
Car sharing makes so much sense in this auto-obsessed city

According to a City of Saskatoon report from 2011, Saskatoon had more registered vehicles than people to drive them — about 8,000 more, in fact. On top of that, Saskatoon has offensively high greenhouse gas emissions, our heavily used University bridge will be closed until, um, Septemberish (at best), parking downtown can be infuriatingly difficult, and our public transit system has some of the lowest ridership numbers in Canada. Yeah. We have a car culture problem here.

That’s why the Saskatoon CarShare Co-op [SCC] makes so much sense in a city like ours, even if we're stubbornly locked into the belief that we need to own three vehicles each, including a douchey jacked-up truck with a Riders plate, fake bull balls hanging off the back bumper and a special sun-visor clip for your white Oakley sunglasses.

Oops — bit of a tangent there, sorry. But the point still stands.

Car shares, for the unfamiliar, are an alternative to private car ownership. Popular in large metropolitan cities, car shares allow people to rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. SCC, which has been operating in Saskatoon for about a year, has reached about 40 members for its two shared cars in the Nutana/Broadway area. And although their presence is relatively small at this point, SCC's impact has been fairly significant.

“The reason we exist in Saskatoon is that after looking at research of car shares in other places in Canada, they've been found to significantly reduce the transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jessie Best, co-ordinator of SCC. “It gives people who would normally walk, bike, or take the bus an alternative to privately owned vehicles when they need one.”

Best says that since its inception, SCC has already saved around 1000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, an achievement which recently earned them an environmental activism award from the Saskatchewan Eco Network.

Car sharing doesn’t offer the instant access to a vehicle that private ownership does, obviously, but it does provide users with fewer ownership responsibilities and less cost (no maintenance or registration costs, for example). And the cars are actually being used continuously, rather than sitting in parking spaces or driveways.

“The cars are used at an average of two to three hours per trip,” says Best. “With the majority of privately owned vehicles, they’re just sitting parked somewhere for a lot of the day. It's more efficient to share a vehicle with a number of people so you’re getting maximum use out of it, rather than having it just sit there depreciating.”

It's a concept that's grown quickly, and is expected to continue to do so on a global scale. According to a report from Navigant Research, worldwide membership in car sharing will grow from 2.3 million in 2013 to more than 12 million in 2020. In North America last year, over a million people belonged to a car share program — a 44 per cent increase from the previous year.

Societal benefits include less demand for parking spaces, reduced urban congestion and lower emissions of greenhouse gases — some big incentives for a city like Saskatoon, where the closure of the University Bridge is expected to create mass congestion in the downtown and Broadway areas.

“Car sharing creates less traffic congestion, meaning less wear and tear on the roads. Not only does Saskatoon have some of the highest vehicle ownership rates, but Saskatoon as a whole has the highest per capital greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. And of course, Canada is among the worst in the whole world — and transportation accounts for 21 per cent of those emissions. I think it’s really time to start rethinking how we get from place to place,” says Best.

More and more companies are entering the fast-growing business of car sharing, including non-profits, services that charge by the minute rather than the hour, and even services that allow for one-way rentals and free street parking. Much of the industry that exists at present has been swallowed up by big corporations like Car2Go (owned by Daimler), ZipCar (purchased by Avis for $500 million) and existing car rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise, who are both beginning to offer the service.

This makes SCC more unique, as it is a small, locally run business, rather than a multi-national concern.

“I think it's important that we offer car sharing as a local business — we’re all Saskatoon-based,” says Best. “It helps keep money circulating through the local economy, and all the profits we make from the business is going right back into further expansion of the business.”

Best says that although growth has been slightly slower in the first year than they had projected, SCC eventually hopes to increase their fleet and expand to other core neighbourhoods, including downtown, City Park and Riversdale. But perhaps their biggest challenge is to force a car-obsessed city like Saskatoon to rethink how it moves around.

“I think it's challenging because a lot of [the Saskatoon population] came from small towns where owning a vehicle was really necessary for transportation. And, because our population is so spread out, it's ingrained in our psyche that we need access to a vehicle at all times. But I think as Saskatoon grows, ideas from [other] cities — like higher-density living areas, less vehicle ownership and more people going to work with public transportation — those ideas will start to percolate,” says Best.

“I think the car share in isolation from these initiatives isn't going to work as well — but along with improving the bus and cycle infrastructure, it needs to be a piece of a bigger holistic picture of improving every sustainable transportation option.”

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