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Carlink II: A Commuter Carsharing Pilot Program Final Report


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Shaheen, Susan A., Kamill Wipyewski, Caroline J. Rodier, Linda Novick, Molly Ann Meyn, John Wright (2004) Carlink II: A Commuter Carsharing Pilot Program Final Report. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-04-30

Chapter One: U.S. Shared-Use Vehicle Findings: Opportunities and Obstacles for Carsharing & Station Car Growth

Shared-use vehicle services provide members access to a fleet of vehicles for use throughout the day, without the hassles and costs of individual auto ownership. From June 2001 to July 2002, the authors surveyed 17 U.S. shared-use vehicle service organizations on a range of topics, including organizational size, strategic partnerships, pricing strategies, insurance costs, and technology applications. While survey findings demonstrate a decline in the number of organizational starts in the last year, the rate of operational launches into new cities, membership, and fleet size continue to increase. Several growth-oriented organizations in the U.S. are responsible for the majority of this expansion. The authors explore several factors that challenge shared-use vehicle growth, such as high capital investment (or start-up costs), dramatic hikes in insurance rates, and scarcity of cost-effective technologies.

The authors conclude that while early niche market findings are encouraging, the ability of this emerging sector to actualize its total environmental, economic, and social goals may be limited without the collective support of private industry (e.g., automakers, insurance providers, technology producers), public agents (e.g., transit and governmental agencies), and shared-use vehicle programs. Indeed, public-private partnerships and cooperation among shared-use vehicle providers may play a key role in addressing insurance and technology costs and assuring the long-term viability of this market.

Chapter Two: A Framework for Testing Innovative Transportation Solutions: A Case Study of Carlink—A Commuter Carsharing Program

Transit accounts for just two percent of total travel in the U.S. One reason for low ridership is limited access; many individuals either live or work too far from a transit station. In developing transit connectivity solutions, researchers often employ a range of study instruments, such as stated-preference surveys, focus groups, and pilot programs. To better understand response to one innovative transit solution, the authors employed a number of research tools, including: a longitudinal survey, field test, and pilot program. The innovation examined was a commuter carsharing model, called CarLink, which linked short-term rental vehicles to transit and employment centers. Over several years, researchers explored user response to the CarLink concept, a field operational test (CarLink I), a pilot program (CarLink II), and a commercial operation (the pilot was turned over to Flexcar in summer 2002). This multi-staged approach provided an opportunity for researchers to learn and adapt as each phase progressed. In this paper, the authors outline the CarLink model, technology, and early lessons learned; describe CarLink II operational understanding; provide a synopsis of the pilot program transition; and offer recommendations for future model development.

Chapter Three: Travel Effects of a Suburban Commuter-Carsharing Service: A Carlink Case Study

Since 1998, carsharing programs (or short-term auto rentals) in the U.S. have experienced exponential membership growth. As of July 2003, 15 carsharing organizations collectively claimed 25,727 members and 784 vehicles. Given this growing demand, decision makers and transit operators are increasingly interested in understanding the potential for carsharing services to increase transit use, reduce auto ownership, and lower vehicle miles traveled. However, to date, there is only limited evidence of potential program effects in the U.S. and Europe. This paper presents the travel effects of CarLink?a commuter carsharing model with explicit links to transit and employment in a suburban environment?in the context of participant demographic and attitudinal market profiles. A variety of research methods (including focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, and travel diaries) captured the following commute travel effects from the CarLink I and II programs:
  • Increased commuter rail mode share by 23 percentage points in CarLink I and II;
  • Reduced drive-alone mode share by 44 and 23 percentage points in CarLink I and II, respectively;
  • Decreased average daily vehicle miles traveled by 23 miles in CarLink II and by 18 miles in CarLink I;
  • Increased travel time but reduced stress;
  • Reduced vehicle ownership by almost six percent in CarLink II; and
  • Reduced parking demand at participating train stations and among member businesses.
The typical CarLink I and II member was more likely to be highly educated, in an upper income bracket, and professionally employed than average Bay Area residents. CarLink I and II members also displayed sensitivity to congestion, willingness to experiment, and environmental concern. The travel results of CarLink I and II are compared to those of neighborhood carsharing models in the U.S. and Europe to suggest the importance of CarLink's explicit transit and employment connections and the value of carsharing in a suburban location.

Chapter Four: Applying Integrated ITS Technologies to Carsharing System Management: A Carlink Case Study

Carsharing is the short-term use of a shared vehicle fleet by authorized members. Since 1998, U.S. carsharing services have experienced exponential growth. At present, there are 13 carsharing organizations. Over the past three years, electronic and wireless technologies have been developed that can facilitate carsharing system management in the U.S., improve customer services, and reduce program costs. This paper examines the U.S. carsharing market; the role of advanced technology in program management, including CarLink lessons learned; and technology benefits to this nascent market.

Chapter Five: Carlink—A commuter Carsharing Model: Conditions for Economic Viability

At present, only a few alternatives exist to facilitate transit access. To expand the suite of viable modes, more demand-responsive mobility services should be developed. Under specific conditions, short-term rental vehicles linked to transit (or commuter carsharing) can offer a sustainable transportation alternative to private vehicles, particularly in suburban locations where transit connectivity is more limited. From January to November 1999, a commuter carsharing model, called CarLink I, was tested in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Building on CarLink I, the CarLink II pilot program was deployed from July 2001 to June 2002 in the South San Francisco Bay Area with the option of transitioning to a third-party provider. Examination of CarLink I and II economic data and scenario analyses—which explore program modification effects on viability—revealed several economic success factors. In addition to fixed monthly CarLink rates, the introduction of hourly rentals is an important strategy to diversify CarLink income streams and maximize vehicle use, as well as a revenue-risk sharing approach among partner participants (e.g., employers, transit providers). Additional strategies to create more viable commuter carsharing services include raising rates for business customers, lowering insurance rates, controlling costs through technology and scale, and marketing strategies.