The Potential for Shared-Use Vehicles in China

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Authors: Matthew Barth and Susan A. Shaheen

Dates: October 2003

Abstract: In the past, the majority of Chinese cities have developed with low-levels of automobile dependence, resulting in high-density centers that are well served by transit. However, a number of policies and factors are now in place that promote “motorization”, resulting in increased automobile dependency in these cities. Increased personal automobile ownership in China is having a significant impact on the quality of human life in terms of land use, pollutant emissions, greenhouse gases, and energy supplies. Rather than embracing personalized automobile ownership that competes with traditional transit, China is well positioned to adopt an innovative mobility option: shared-use vehicle systems. The general principle of a shared-use vehicle system, often referred to as carsharing or station cars, is that individuals can access a fleet of shared vehicles (ranging from cars to bikes and scooters) on an as-needed basis, rather than using personally-owned vehicles for the majority of their trips. Shared-use vehicles offer the convenience of a private automobile and more flexibility than public transportation alone. There are many advantages to shared-use vehicle systems, including: 1) improving transportation efficiency by reducing the number of (private) vehicles required to meet total travel demand; as a result, vehicles spend less idle time in parking lots and are used more frequently by several users; 2) reducing individuals’ transportation costs since vehicle expenses (e.g., payments, insurance, maintenance) are shared among all system users; 3) achieving energy and emission benefits when low-polluting vehicles (e.g., electric, gas-electric hybrid, natural gas) comprise the shared-use vehicle fleet; and 4) increasing transit ridership when individuals use shared vehicles via a direct transit linkage or indirectly because they are more conscious about modal choice in tripmaking (i.e., fixed auto ownership costs are typically converted to variable costs). For several years, the authors have extensively studied many models of shared-use vehicle systems in Europe and North America, creating a typology of systems. In this paper, a variety of shared-use vehicle system models are described and examined from the perspective of Chinese transportation and urban systems.

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October 1, 2003

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