The ICCT briefing examines electric carsharing and the elements that are found in successful programs in North America and Europe. Specifically, it describes the benefits of electric carsharing, presents examples of carsharing, provides charging infrastructure insights, and identifies best practices for electric carsharing.
Electric carsharing can enhance the environmental benefits of conventional combustion-engine carsharing and mitigate negative impacts. In 2019, a survey showed that 66% of all carsharing fleets were either all-electric or offered some electric vehicles, and 25% of countries with carsharing had cities where carsharing fleets consisted exclusively of battery electric vehicles.
There are different types of car-sharing schemes. The report focuses on business-to-consumer carsharing, which includes roundtrip or one-way station-based service and one-way free-floating service. As of 2019, there were 236 carshare operators in 59 countries and 3,128 cities worldwide. The number of cities offering carsharing increased to more than 4,100 as of the beginning of 2021.
What are the benefits of electric carsharing?
Many studies have been conducted on the impact and the potential benefits of carsharing and most show that it has net beneficial social and environmental impacts. When assessing the environmental impact, several factors are considered: change in car ownership, change in vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), mode shift, and car efficiency.
Studies show that carsharing has a range of beneficial social impacts by allowing a household to gain or maintain access to vehicles without bearing the cost of car ownership. Carsharing can give carless households equal access to jobs, goods, and services. Not only do share electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, which benefits air quality, but they also increase zero-emission vehicle exposure, allowing more people to become familiar with this new technology, and can thus lead to increased electric vehicle market share. Additionally, if pollution is higher, as is the case in many low-income areas, electric vehicles help reduce air pollution.
Carsharing lowers VKT from private automobiles in most studies, consequently lowering emissions and reducing traffic. Electric vehicles amplify these emission benefits. In some studies, roundtrip carsharing reduces more VKT per user and is slightly better in
terms of cars removed from the roads than one-way carsharing. Roundtrip carsharing serves the same function as a personal car since it is picked up and dropped off at the same place in one’s own neighbourhood and thus might be a more convincing replacement for a personal car. Additionally, roundtrip carsharing subscribers increased their public transit usage while one-way carsharing users slightly decreased it. However, because free-floating schemes allow more flexibility and have larger fleets, they have the potential to attract more customers, which in some cases could increase the comparative environmental and social impacts over roundtrip carsharing.
Electric carsharing brings multiple benefits to a city. The benefits include a 5%–20% reduction in GHG emissions per car-sharing household in North America and Europe. Electric carsharing companies can aid in the installation of chargers that are also available to the public and provide reliable usage to recoup infrastructure investments.
Government support is essential for the success of any electric carsharing program. Although carsharing does not necessarily need financial support in dense urban areas, city policies favouring private car ownership can put carsharing at a disadvantage. Conversely, city policies designed to encourage carsharing to be electric can ensure its success. To ensure success in densely populated cities, parking policies for carsharing must be at least equal to those for private cars.
Charging infrastructure must adapt to different business models and fleet sizes. Incorporating electric vehicles into carsharing requires charging infrastructure. The sufficient number of chargers differs based on the business model. Roundtrip station-based carsharing requires approximately one charger per car and one-way station-based charging requires 1.5 to two chargers per car. Although station-based carsharing ensures the availability of electric cars with sufficient battery levels, it entails high charging infrastructure costs and, at times, poor optimization of public space because most charging and parking is reserved only for carsharing users.
Electrification of shared fleets happens in multiple steps. As of early 2021, free-floating carsharing is often the most economically viable solution for electric carsharing in densely populated cities compared to roundtrip carsharing. Cities could thus only allow battery electric vehicles for their free-floating operators and only require a certain percentage of roundtrip fleets to be electric. Roundtrip carsharing is more likely to involve trips outside a free-floating zone where charging infrastructure is less developed. When the public charging infrastructure is more developed in the surrounding areas, cities can then require roundtrip operators to be fully electric.