Carsharing in the United States: Examining Market Potential

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Author: Susan A. Shaheen, Ph.D.

Date: January 2002

Abstract: The automobile is the dominant travel mode throughout the U.S., while transit accounts for less than four-percent of market share. Between these principal modes, niche markets exist for other transportation services, such as transit feeder shuttles and carsharing. Carsharing, in which individuals share a fleet of vehicles distributed at neighborhoods, employment sites, and/or transit stations, could potentially fill and expand one such niche; complement existing services; and develop into an economically viable transportation alternative. While most transit modes rely heavily upon governmental support, carsharing has the potential to become commercially sustainable. Nevertheless, carsharing is a relatively new development in the U.S. and will require more time to develop into a sustainable and widespread transportation alternative.
This paper includes a brief discussion of carsharing history in Europe and an overview of U.S. carsharing developments. It also highlights CarLink—the first smart commuter-based carsharing program in the San Francisco Bay Area—to examine the market potential and viability of one U.S. shared-use vehicle model in greater detail. (For more information on CarLink go to www.gocarlink.com.) Finally, the author concludes this paper with a discussion of the complementary niche potential of carsharing to fill existing gaps between traditional transit and private vehicles.

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January 31, 2002

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