When it Comes to Climate, Car Sharing is Caring

As anyone that lives in or visits Los Angeles knows, if you want to get around, you need a car. While this perception is especially true in LA, residents of cities throughout the country have a similar dependence on car ownership. For many, public transportation isn’t a real option due to a lack of infrastructure, limited access, or simply personal preference. However, a new solution is being implemented in a number of cities across the country, allowing residents to ditch their personal car and participate in growing car share programs.

Car shares are nothing new, but are increasingly sought after as one element of a city’s comprehensive climate action plan. While these programs vary, the idea is simple: provide easy, affordable access to a car for residents to replace individual car ownership.  The number of companies offering such services are growing in terms of locations and scale—many of them now offering low-emission and zero emission vehicles.

Improving Communities

Car share programs improve the lives of residents, and build stronger communities—and if it is possible in Los Angeles, it is possible everywhere. This sentiment from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, captures the city’s outlook best: “It’s about time the car capital of the world planned for the future of transportation in the digital age—moving beyond the car to bikes, ride-shares, and autonomous vehicles.”

LA has a number of public transportation options, including a strong network of buses, the regional Metro-link, and a subway system, but these options are often disjointed—making for long commute times and inconvenient and expensive trips. Recognizing these shortcomings, leaders in Los Angeles are now using car-share programs to great effect by connecting existing public transportation options with car-share hubs. One way that this is being accomplished is by locating car-shares at subway exits, bus depots, and train stations. This allows passengers to seamlessly transfer from one public-transportation platform to another, without the need for a personal car.

Cities and communities can also open up their streets by facilitating car shares. A recent study of five metropolitan areas where car shares operate yielded some encouraging results. The data showed that in the five cities observed, car shares helped take 28,000 personal vehicles off of city streets. Residents who utilize these programs are more likely to go car free, or at least drop previous plans to get a new vehicle, due to their experience.

Fewer cars on the roads means fewer hours spent commuting, cleaner air with less pollution, and cities can even see a new revenue stream from taxes collected through private car share companies. Low-income communities can also share the benefits, with many new programs being specifically targeted to help improve access in their neighborhoods.

How Government Can Help

Like so many climate initiatives, car share programs require collaboration between leaders from multiple sectors to be successful. Government officials should lead the way—and many are.

A new program in the Los Angeles metro area is being funded by the California Air Resources Board. The goal: provide access to car-shares in low-income communities and neighborhoods that companies may otherwise ignore due to lower profit margins. In California, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency has directed $2.5 million dollars, raised through the state’s cap-and-trade program, to help phase in an increasing number of zero-emission cars over the next decade. And in Los Angeles, transit authorities can work with industry to identify hubs near public transportation outlets that would be best served by car-shares.

Car-shares are effective. They bring revenue to cities, decrease congestion on roads, cut air pollution, and bring down commute times for residents. These programs help improve cities, communities, and the climate. Find out how to effectively communicate the benefits of climate action by downloading tested techniques at Let’s Talk Climate, and join with bold climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities!

Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at stuart@ecoamerica.org.

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