Dare to Be Different: A Message from Community CarShare

Last week I sat down with Laura Beattie, Regional Services Coordinator for Community CarShare to ask her a few questions about her organization. Community CarShare is a non-profit co-operative which provides members access to vehicles on a self-serve, pay-per-use basis. The co-operative was founded in 1998 and operates across Southern Ontario. For more information on how carsharing works, watch their Orientation video here.


Carsharing is about the environment

“Our main reason for existence is environmental benefits” Laura explained. Community CarShare attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change by reducing vehicle ownership and therefore, reducing driving. By making their cars accessible and affordable, they are increasing the transportation options and encouraging individuals that they can lead healthy and productive lives, without car dependence.


Carsharing is making “car-free” easier

As we began our conversation, it wasn’t long before Laura mentioned the impact that cars have in our society and how dependant we are on them, “Everything has been built around a car centric world” said Beattie. Although cars have negative impacts on individuals’ health and the environment, they are a still considered a staple in today’s society. Carsharing gives individuals the freedom to live car-free (or in a reduced-car home), while still having access to  cars, trucks, and vans when necessary. However, it is still a big step from living in that car centric world to being a  CarShare member. “If we want people to bike and bus and walk everywhere, and only use CarShare occasionally, that can be a huge jump for them” said Laura. “Or if we want them to get rid of their own car, to have no cars at all, is a huge behaviour change. It’s sometimes hard to overcome that barrier. Everyone loves the idea of CarShare but to actually commit to it takes a certain kind of mindset to be ready to do it.” Community CarShare works hard to ensure that transportation options are available, and has partnerships with Hamilton Bikeshare, VIA Rail, and other carshare organizations for discounts to encourage other sustainable modes of transportation.  Currently they are finding more than enough people willing to make that commitment. Community CarShare has experienced 57% growth in their fleet in the past year alone and membership growth of about 40% per year.


Carsharing is about transit equality

During our discussion, Laura pointed out that Community CarShare is focused on affordable costs, “The people who say it’s expensive don’t really understand how much a car really costs. Or they are taken aback by the pay-per-use concept rather than ownership costs which are less frequent in the year and more out of sight”. Unlike many environmental products, affluent people are not the main target market for Community CarShare, “They are not the low-hanging fruit, so to speak” said Laura. Owning a car is a luxury and it is difficult to give that up.  By using a low-cost strategy, the co-operative can have a greater environmental impact than they would by appealing solely to environmental values, “Not everyone cares about the environment as much as we want them to – but that’s okay.  If people care about their wallets more, then they may not even know that they are helping the environment by not owning a car” says Laura. The pay structure is set up so you pay an equal rate per kilometre that you drive with the car. This encourages shorter trips by making it more financially desirable. This strategy also makes CarShare an option for individuals who wouldn’t be able to afford a car on their own, “I had a couple people join in the last few weeks who wouldn’t have been able to get to their jobs without CarShare”. Laura also points out that urban dwelling senior citizens are also a good segment for car sharing. They do not drive as much, but may need a car occasionally to go visit a friend or get groceries.



In order for car sharing to be a viable alternative to car ownership, the cars need to be accessible. And Community CarShare is certainly being innovative in their approach to increasing access. “It’s kind of a chicken-egg scenario sometimes with CarShare”, explained Laura, “We had lots of excess parking in Kitchener where people had agreed to give us parking spots but there wasn’t enough member demand in that neighbourhood to actually support a car.” Community CarShare took these designated Future spots and turned them into Quantum stations, making it so that members can now order a car to the parking spots whenever they need one. This approach has never been done in carsharing before and though it is a bit early to judge it’s success, it is certainly proof of their ability to think outside the box.

Carsharing is a great option for urban dwellers, who live close to many of the things they need and already have access to other modes of transportation.  But could this be an option for individuals in more rural areas, where access to alternative modes of transportation are non-existent? “Carsharing in rural areas is very difficult, you need a way to get to the cars”, explains Laura.  However as part of a grant project, Community CarShare was able to place a car in Elmira, a rural area near Kitchener/Waterloo, 2 years ago.


An 11th Rule of Social Marketing?

When asked about her take on the 10 Rules, Laura responded positively, “I like them, I thought they made sense and were all positive. Because CarShare is always on my brain I was thinking about how they compare to CarShare and it was kind of nice that we meet most of those things, or at least we try to.” And they do cover a lot of things on the 10 Rules list.  They incorporate Gamification strategies by having a member referral program, anytime a referral is made, both the referrer and the referee get a $30 driving credit. They even have public commitments, with the option of corporate members putting logos on the website, and lawn signs for members to put on their properties.

One Rule that Community CarShare does not monitor is Spillover.  They do have individuals whose needs change, and go from a CarSharer to a car owner. “Basically, if you drive more than 12,000 km a year, it’s cheaper to own your own car than to do CarShare” explains Laura.  If you need to own a car, they will help you make the switch back to car ownership.

There is one thing that Laura feels is missing from the 10 Rules: Dare to be Different. “Rather than doing everything the same, we differentiate ourselves and we have been successful in that way.”  As the first CarShare in Ontario and with creative new programs, such as the rural CarShare in Elmira and Quantum program, Community CarShare can certainly boast their ability to push boundaries. A skill they will need for the future as carsharing continues to increase in popularity. “I think that in 5 years a lot more people will know what CarSharing is,” said Laura, and in order to capitalize on this growing market, the fresh ideas and low prices of Community CarShare will be a huge advantage.

If you are in Southern Ontario and ready to give up your car, click here!

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Photo Credit: Jordan Detmers


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