Now, however, the carsharing industry is at a turning point where evolving business models — round trip or one way? free-floating vehicles or cars docked at specific stations? — are poised to collide with parallel breakthroughs in ridesharing, electric vehicles and self-driving cars.
Though big questions remain about demand patterns, who will drive these futuristic cars and what happens to the data collected by service providers, the opening to increase efficiency and ease congestion in a cost-effective way is increasingly compelling for a range of providers.
“This allows flexibility for the operator to serve more people with a single car,” Susan Shaheen, director of Innovative Mobility Research at the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, told GreenBiz.
“When you look at bikesharing, the majority of systems are point-to-point, or one way,” Shaheen said. “About 80 percent of those trips are one way. It provides people with a higher degree of flexibility.”
She pegs automakers — more specifically, higher end European automakers — as the leaders to date in one-way carsharing. Several providers favor “floating” models where cars can be parked anywhere, as opposed to more infrastructure-intensive station models like Zipcar’s.
“I think that public transportation is a core service and that it needs to exist,” she said. “You’re not going to redistribute rail, but you could redistribute a bus line. You could change the size of a bus. You could make it on-demand.”
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