5 Ways Living Car-Free Can Help Make the World a Better Place
By Tim Frisbie, Shared-Use Mobility Center
The Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) is a national nonprofit organization working to extend the benefits of shared mobility (including bike-sharing, car-sharing, ride-sharing and more) for all communities. SUMC, a 501(c)(3), was founded with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of IGO CarSharing, the nonprofit that first brought carsharing to the Chicago region. SUMC continues IGO’s mission to help make it possible to live well without needing to own a car.
You might not realize it, but if you are a car-share member, you are a part of an international movement helping to improve the world’s cities. From Oslo to Paris, major metropolitan areas are beginning to limit or ban cars in their downtowns to help improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. At the same time, they are promoting car sharing and other forms of shared mobility (such as bikesharing and public transit) that support car-free and car-lite lifestyles.
As long as you have enough alternatives, living without a car isn’t a hassle—in fact, it can be liberating.
So why not save money, and help your city, by ditching your ride? In honor of Car-Free Day, here’s a look at how car-sharing and other forms of shared mobility are helping to make cities greener, cleaner, and more affordable.
A little car-sharing goes a long way: Every Zipcar takes 13 personally-owned vehicles off the road.
For most families in the U.S., transportation is the second biggest expense after housing. The main culprit? You guessed it—car ownership. Paying for insurance, gas, repairs, and parking can add up quickly. In fact, according to AAA, it costs more than $8,000 a year to own and maintain a car in the U.S.
Owning a vehicle is also a sunk cost. Once your car is sitting in your driveway, it’s much easier to default to using it for trips both long and short instead of more economical and sustainable forms of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit.
Given the hefty price tag associated with car ownership, going car-free can generate significant cost savings. According to the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s online benefits calculator, reducing the number of personal vehicles by 10% in Boston could save residents a combined $85 million in annual transportation costs.
Less Traffic Congestion
Car ownership can be expensive in other ways, too. When everyone chooses to drive alone, it contributes to more traffic on the roads and leads to gridlock, lost time, and decreased productivity. Not to mention lower quality of life for those forced to commute each day in bumper-to-bumper traffic!
Shared mobility can help lessen urban congestion by reducing the number of cars on the road. Research suggests that each car-share car removes between 9 and 13 privately owned cars off the road. Because car sharing allows people to still have access to a car when they need one, without the burden of ownership, it allows people to sell their car, forgo or delay the purchase of a new car, or go from two cars to one.
Other forms of shared mobility—including public transit, bikesharing, ride-hailing and carpooling—can also help to create a robust ecosystem of options that give people the peace of mind they need to go car-free. Together, these modes can have a big impact. For instance, SUMC’s calculator suggests that Chicago could take 50,000 cars off the road by adding approximately 4,700 carshare cars, 3,500 bikeshare bikes, 9,000 carpool users, and 18,5000 transit commuters.
Improved Air Quality and Reduced Carbon Emissions
Reducing personal vehicles in cities can make a big impact in reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions discharged into the air.
Transportation has become the number one source of carbon pollution in the U.S. Emissions from cars and trucks contribute to elevated levels of greenhouse gases that can affect our climate and harm our planet.
Vehicle emissions also contain a whole host of nasty elements including particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides that can cause reduced lung capacity, asthma, cancer and other serious health issues. To make matters worse, many of those with the highest levels of exposure to air pollution are families living in disadvantaged communities near freeways and other major thoroughfares.
Because shared mobility can help take cars off the road, it can help to cut the level of emissions discharged into the air. Reducing personal vehicles by just 5% in Los Angeles, for example, would result in approximately 385,000 fewer metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions discharged into the air. That’s equivalent to the carbon sequestered by more than 450,000 acres of forest in one year.
Promoting Active Forms of Transportation
Studies have shown that people with multi-modal lifestyles are more active and less likely to be overweight.
Research suggests that people who use are multi-modal benefit in a multitude of ways. A study completed by SUMC for the Transportation Research Board showed that the more people use bike-sharing, car-sharing and other forms of shared mobility, the more likely they are to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall.
Compared to survey respondents who had not used any shared modes beyond public transit, those who were experienced with new forms of shared mobility reported owning nearly half a car less—1.5 versus 1.05 cars per household. Vehicle ownership was even lower among those who used the widest variety of modes across all trip types. These “supersharers” reported owning only 0.72 cars per household and also claimed the greatest transportation cost savings.
Using a diverse mix of transportation can also be good for your health. Studies have shown people with multi-modal lifestyles exercise more and are less likely to be overweight than residents who live in more automobile-oriented areas. Additionally, individuals who use public transportation get more than three times the amount of physical activity per day of those who don’t, as a result of walking to stops and final destinations. This activity can help lower the risk for many serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Opening Up Public Land for Better Uses
Parking lots and city streets take up a lot of space – what if they could be replaced by parks, bike lines, and other shared public spaces?
Think about all the space in cities dedicated to cars: wide roads, parking lots, expressways. In fact, if you added up all the land devoted to parking across the U.S., you would end up with one massive 6,500-square-mile parking lot bigger than the state of Connecticut.
What if we could take that land and use it for things like parks, bike lanes, and housing that benefit everyone?
More and more cities are choosing to do just that—design for people, not cars. Many have started turning streets into car-free pedestrian zones, instituting “road diets,” and converting street parking into spaces for bike-share stations, car-share vehicles and other shared uses.
In Paris, the city is removing two miles of expressway along the River Seine and turning the land into a waterfront park (including the now-famous Paris Plages). San Francisco has announced it will add 1,000 new street spaces for carsharing, while Portland has a massive pedestrian and bike bridge that’s closed to auto traffic. With an eye to the future, some developers have even started building parking garages that can be converted into housing, commercial space, and other uses once demand for parking slackens.
However, the reality is that most of the U.S. is still auto dependent, so events such as Car-Free Day are crucial for increasing awareness about the benefits of shared mobility.
It’s not always easy to go car-free, but by making small changes, you can go from two cars or one, or from one to none. Your wallet, your waistline, and your city will thank you.
Beginning this Car-Free Day, we want to reward everyone who’s making more room for greener spaces, bike lanes, and other things that aren’t cars by choosing to #ShareTheWheel with other ways of getting around the city. Tag @Zipcar with a unique story about why you #ShareTheWheel every day in your city for a chance to win a FREE Zipcar membership (or $150 in free driving if you’re already a Zipster), local bike share credit, a free subway pass, and a new pair of sneakers! Click here for full details.