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Car Sharing in New England in 2016

Caption: Charging stations in Indianapolis for BlueIndy electric vehicles. Photo courtesy: http://bit.ly/gannett-cdn

Caption: Charging stations in Indianapolis for BlueIndy electric vehicles. Photo courtesy: http://bit.ly/gannett-cdn

By Jim Stiles

2015 was a good year for car sharing in the Northeast and 2016 looks to be much the same. Across the region more shared cars were placed in more locations. Big players like ZipCar and Car2Go and little ones like Car Share Vermont continue to grow.

One interesting development in car sharing occurred in Indianapolis, Indiana in September when BlueIndy moved to join its European cousin Autolib as it started deploying French electric vehicles from Bluecar. Well-suited for city driving with a range of 155 miles and top speed of 75 mph, Bluecars appear to be a good match for many car-sharing demands in large metro areas such as Indianapolis, with its nearly two million residents. The company currently lists forty locations as being under construction and has plans for five hundred Bluecars distributed across the city at two hundred locations. As with many car share providers, BlueIndy got a big boost from strong local support, in this case the mayor of Indianapolis. He sees potential benefits for the city from reducing parking demands and traffic congestion.

With a population of less than eight thousand, Montpelier is tiny by normal car-sharing standards. Its two cars from Car Share Vermont, placed there this year, were deployed in response to strong interest from residents and the state government. It is still in its early days, and the jury is still out on its success.

Although similar to car rentals, car sharing is more cost-effective and convenient when there are enough people who are willing to become members of a car sharing service. This normally means these services are limited to larger cities or special locations such as universities, although smaller populations may attract car sharing if interest is strong. Car sharing advocates readily admit that car sharing does not address every need for a car. However it seems to be a good fit for people who occasionally need a car or don’t really want a second car.

At a recent public hearing on transportation planning in St. Albans, Vermont, car sharing piqued many people’s interest. With a population of less than seven thousand, St. Albans is not an obvious candidate for the service. The benefits are there, but the cost structures of conventional car sharing make it unlikely that such a small community could attract a provider. Other than the issue of enough people with interest, insurance for shared vehicles was identified as the big barrier. The state transportation planners promised to consider ways the state could ease this barrier as long as the cost to the state was not significant.

Car sharing, including innovative services like BlueIndy, is one good way to help wean society from our reliance on cars. As car sharing organizations continue to seek out partners to help overcome barriers to placing cars, expect to see strong growth at universities, companies, communities, and other organizations looking to support green initiatives.

Jim Stiles has worked in alternative energy, high tech, and construction. His passion is figuring out what a prosperous, sustainable society can look like so he can do a better job building it.

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