A drive towards sharing

10 May 2016

New companies in New Zealand are offering easy access to cars, without the hassles of owning one. It’s a new approach that could reshape our transport system, and more.

We have got used to owning cars as being normal. But if we look at it with fresh eyes the costs of doing so are high. They may also be unnecessary.

For example, how much of New Zealand’s exorbitantly-priced real estate is currently taken up with garages and drives? (A 188-square-metre drive in Grey Lynn just went on sale at $1.15 million!)

What could we do with all that extra space? There’s obviously also the purchase cost, depreciation, the maintenance, WOF, insurance…

And about a fifth of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. Something like a third of that comes from our 2.9 million light passenger vehicles.

Some of us who commute from places without adequate public transport may feel we still need to own a car. Others may already be liberated from car ownership by reasonable local public transport links. We may be able to walk or cycle.

But the rest of us might want to do some sums and take a look at companies like Cityhop or YourDrive.

Cityhop is a car share service. Members pay a small monthly access fee and can then book Cityhop cars parked around Auckland and Wellington city. Cars are opened with a smart card. Rates are only $15 an hour including petrol, with a daily rate of $75 and an overnight special of $30.

YourDrive takes the car sharing concept, and adds a twist. Instead of having its own fleet of cars, YourDrive makes it possible for private car owners to rent their cars out. This creates a win/win situation. The owner gets their idle car to pay its way and the renter gets a range of options near to them. The system works on the familiar online reputation approach. Users rate and comment on their experience with each car and owner. The owners decide the rates, which can be as little as $10 an hour or $200 a week.

But what if we took this one stage further? What if the car companies themselves did the sharing instead of selling? It’s a major shift in thinking, but there are signs from other industries that it is not too far off. Unless you have a particular yearning to drive a particular model of rental car, what you are actually buying is the travel, not the car. You pay for the effect, without having to own the equipment that creates it.

This is the model that the next wave in ‘self-driving’ cars will take.

Manufacturers will keep ownership of the cars. They will have a vested interest in building them to last. They won’t be just trying to get us to buy a new one every few years.

It is then much easier to add in product stewardship. This is where the maker of the product maintains not just ownership but responsibility for the product. They have to deal with it all the way to disposal or recycling.

Together this could create a new breed of long-lasting self-driving cars that are completely recyclable.

It’s almost a shame we won’t have to own one.