Carsharing or car-sharing means you are able to access cars for self-driven journeys meaning a reduction in the total amount of automobiles that need to be produced to issue the transportation needs. It is ecological because of better utilization of manufactured capital, the vehicles, and thus less need for capital. Additionally incentives to use one's car once it is bought are absent or smaller, with the typical carsharing cost structure. It is economic because usually the person taking the car saves when compared to traditional car rental – and does not have to invest in an own car.
Carsharing as described in this article is different from ridesharing, where two or more persons going in the same direction arrange to share a car, or hitchhiking, where the sharing is not prearranged.
The main competitors in this area are
- peer-to-peer carsharing subscriptions profiting both the car sharer and car sharee. Due to the service model services of this type tend to have vastly greater areas of theoretical coverage with varying levels of actual availability.
- nonprofit cooperative carsharing subscriptions
- for-profit commercial carsharing subscriptions
- Combined fleet
It can be expected that there will be services appearing which merge vehicle availabilities among these fleet models.
Various operators appeared around the turn of the millennium to offer "car sharing" as an alternative to car ownership or rental. A product of the Internet era, this model is most commonly seen in large cities in the UK, Europe (e.g., France, Germany and Poland), Russia, the US and Canada.
These were originally short-term access to vehicles intended for local use by city dwellers who normally travel by bus, bicycle or on foot, only needing a motorized vehicle rarely (and just for short periods) to move awkward, heavy items or travel to points beyond the edge of the local transit system. Vehicles could be obtained for a day, or in some cases for as little as an hour or two. DaimlerAG's Car2Go rents two-seat Smart Cars in Germany as well as some cities in other European countries, the US and Canada. They bill by the minute and offer some electric vehicles. Deutsche Bahn's Flinkster covers most of Germany with a few locations in adjacent countries (Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands), offering electrical vehicles in addition to its internal combustion based fleet.
Most of these organizations own a small fleet of vehicles, which are stationed at various points in the city center or on university campuses. The car share operator sells memberships to drivers, verifying the driver is licensed and insurable at the time of issuing a membership. The member is issued a card which unlocks the vehicles and access to a website on which cars may be reserved in advance. Each car has a preassigned, permanently-reserved parking spot; in most cases, the vehicle must be brought back round-trip to the original car park after use.
The driver goes to the pre-assigned car park spot, inspects the vehicle for dirt and damage, unlocks it with the card and drives away. The system operates unattended; the short-term self-service rental is billed to a charge card, along with any (often costly) penalties for parking tickets, road tolls, vehicles returned late, dirty or out of fuel. Any collisions or problems with the vehicles are reported to the car share operator by telephone or on-line.
The original target market was locals, not travellers; this is gradually changing as larger operators acquire for-profit local independents as a means to expand to more cities. Additional options are also being opened by reciprocal agreements between vendors. A Vrtucar member driver in Ottawa-Gatineau may be able to drive a Communauto in Quebec City or an AutoShare vehicle in Toronto, for instance, without needing to purchase another car share membership in each city.
Operators which own fleets of car share vehicles fall into various categories:
- Some are merely subsidiaries of existing national or international hire car firms. AutoShare is owned by Enterprise. Zipcar, owned by Avis/Budget Group, has been aggressively acquiring other for-profit car sharing firms in order to gain access to a large number of cities in the US, UK and Europe.
- Some are local or regional for-profit firms of varying size. Mobizen in Paris, before it was acquired in 2012 by Communauto in Quebec (Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Sherbrooke), would be one example of a regional for-profit operator.
- Some are purely local co-operatives, such as "Modo" Vancouver or "Community CarShare" in southwestern Ontario. These are owned by local member drivers to provide short-term vehicles; most will establish reciprocal agreements with other car share organizations to obtain access to vehicles in other cities.
- Some (like the aforementioned Flinkster) are national chains with a comprehensive system and good coverage within one country but hardly anything beyond that. They may or may not be quasi state run or subsidiaries of big transportation companies that want to offer a "seamless" trip from doorstep to doorstep within the area they cover
Some operators, such as "City Carshare" in San Francisco, promote environmentally-friendly vehicles for ideological reasons. Autolib', a for-profit operator in France, operates a fleet of all-electric vehicles and charging stations.
There are also "peer-to-peer carsharing" applications, which connect drivers to individual owners of private vehicles. These operate in a similar manner to the "AirBnB" style apps for lodging rental. "RelayRides" in the US and "Car Next Door" in Australia follow this model. Like the analogues, the model has problematic tax implications in many countries.