Thursday, 14 June 2007

Car Ownership vs Rental vs Sharing

As I am not full time in Canada these days, I decided to take a look at alternative ways of having wheels aka a personal vehicle available for my use. Everyone is familiar with the traditional ownership and commercial rental methods of having a car but a friend and neighbour had mentioned trying out a car sharing club membership so I decided to compare the three alternatives.

In a car sharing club, one pays an annual or monthly membership fee to get access to a fleet of cars scattered at locations across a city. Reservations are made for a time and day, one pays an hourly rate and away one goes. The car must be picked and dropped off by the member at the same place at the promised time.

My table of comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of owning vs renting vs sharing shows that the best option depends on individual circumstances, primarily the frequency, duration and distance of driving.

Car sharing is best for infrequent, very short trips of a few hours to a few days within a local area and when one lives in a city core, i.e. close to a car pick-up point. Several of the car sharing websites I came across ( see links in the table) stated that car sharing is cheaper than ownership for anyone driving less than 12,000 km per year. Ownership is best for lots of driving, anything over 18,000 km per year or more than about 120 days of driving. Renting seems to be superior for longer distances up to 18,000 km and up to 120 days driving per year, though I'm not sure if car rental companies would impose punitive disincentive rates for an extended rental of something like a two-month continuous rental. It's interesting that the cost advantage of renting is not dependent on kilometers driven (at least up to 18,000 km per year), it's entirely related to number of days of rental and the number where renting is better than owning - at 120 days per year - is quite high (see my chart).

Part of the decision as to which option to pursue certainly has to consider local factors. For instance, there is a local branch of Enterprise car rental close to my house and they offer free pick-up and delivery services, along with special month or longer rental rates. Also, my credit card offers some form of insurance protection for car rentals though I have to admit I don't really know the details of how good/ useful that is ... material for a future blog post!

The company that operates Car Sharing in Ottawa is vrtuCAR. One of my neighbours has used them and found it worked reasonably well, though collecting and dropping off the car from our suburb required taking public transit, which he said somewhat defeats the purpose.

Another benefit of car sharing and rental is that there are fewer cars on the road overall and people who use these methods of car transport tend to drive less, reducing road / parking congestion and emissions, both good for our environment. Local governments tend to like car sharing in particular and some offer preferential treatment like reserved parking, which can be a big plus in congested big city core areas. Check out the local car sharing websites of your city from links in my tables, or just Google car sharing like I did.


Investoid said...

Interesting, I could see it working in dense population centres and eco-friendly places. But there's no way the suburban families would get into car sharing (car pooling for work is foreign enough to them already).

larry macdonald said...

Well researched post. Car sharing is also popular with artists, musicians, freelance writers, and other self employed types working at home, or as a second car, or as an option for retirees in condos, says the CEO of Toronto's car sharing operation.

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Anonymous said...

Technically, car sharing would work best in the "burbs" where people drive a lot more but there are a lot more cars sitting idle. If almost everyone joins in a a suburban block (ie. a cul-de-sac), the cars would become a district resource, reducing wastage of extra cars sitting unused. That should theoretically mean some savings, unless the administration costs or the tragedy of the commons outweigh the savings.

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