Sharon Flesher on rural carshare
- View SourceThursday, June 03, 2004, Paris, France, Europe
I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart and in the name of the
group for that fine commentary on rural carshare and synopsis on your
experience with the Traverse City carsharing operation over the last several
years. I usually abstain from sharing such comments with the group as a
whole, but in this case I think that we all owe you our thanks. And perhaps
there is something that we can do as a group to build on this experience.
It's strange of an experience such as yours involving several years of hard
work, high hopes and commitment to the basic values of community and
sustainability that we here all appreciate deeply, can be summarized in a
few words. It seems so little. But since a good number of our group know
what it is to work diligently and more often than not in the face of
indifference, I think that we above all can fully appreciate what you have
The next question is how to build on this experience, so that it just
confined to a few words and memories. And here I would like to ask the
group and its many extensions to scratch their collective heads and see if
they/we can turn up a couple of leads or ideas that we might now pursue. At
the very least, I would like to see if we can get some concerned public
agency or foundation - perhaps in Michigan maybe but quite possibly
elsewhere -- to step in and at the very least fund a careful analytic 'post
mortem' that can both provide us with a complete appreciation of your
accomplishments and, critical here, of the lessons that have been learned
that should be shared with others in the States and elsewhere.
With oil at $42 a barrel and surging, there should be some hard thinking
going on now in the right places about how we go about creating a set of new
structures and daily life arrangements that guarantee not only our well
being ands quality of life, but also the future for our children ('our' of
course being the children of the world). In all this, we have seen over
these last years that carsharing decently implemented has an important role.
So, since we have this opportunity, now is a good time to see if we can put
it to work for a good cause.
So our collective thanks to you dear Sharon and your colleagues up there in
Traverse, and who knows? maybe all that hard work will serve some important
purposes which even you did not have in mind the day you said, "Hey, why
don't we . . .".
From: Sharon Flesher [mailto:sflesher@...]
Sent: Friday, May 28, 2004 7:44 PM
Subject: Re: [WorldCarshare] rural carshare?
>Does North America have any car clubs which operate, independently orHello Jane,
>otherwise, in population areas of less than 15,000?"
It can be done and I will share with you our experience. We operated car
sharing for 2.5 years in Traverse City, Michigan, which is a town of just
under 15,000 in a rural area of the state, 150 miles from any city with a
population above 100,000. We are not currently operating formally, but we
built relationships that enabled most of our members to avoid purchasing
their own cars when our operation ceased in June 2002.
Many of the conditions favorable to car sharing are present in some older
small towns; I would suspect this is even more the case in the UK than in
North America. In Traverse City, we have several older neighborhoods that
are within easy walking or biking distance from the main business district
and have a population density that allowed us to place a car within a
5-minute walk of at least 100 residences. Primarily thanks to tourism, the
central business district has remained strong and not fallen prey to the
sprawlmart disease that has destroyed so many downtowns across the U.S.
Most goods and services can be obtained in the central business district or
at other pedestrian-accessible businesses within the city limits. In other
words, we have a community in which a car is not always needed. We also
have a healthy proportion of progressive thinkers, people who would be
willing to try something like car sharing.
What is missing in a small-town market such as ours is the economy of scale
necessary to function independently. At our zenith, we had roughly 30
members from 20 households sharing 3 cars. That represented about .3% of
the total households in our city. If we had achieved a market share of 1%
(which would be very high in a North American car sharing operation -- I
don't know if anyone has that yet), we would have had 64 households, or
about 100 members. We made a business plan that showed at that point we
would be able to afford to pay a part-time person to run the operation, but
we didn't get to that point. So a small, independent operation will need to
rely on volunteer labor, which tends to have limits. After 2.5 years, the
volunteer labor which operated our CSO was no longer available and we
failed in our efforts to replace it.
Only 58% of the U.S. population lives in urbanized areas of more than
200,000 people. It makes sense that these population centers are the
current target for car sharing operations, but the other 42% are doing more
than their share of driving and polluting, so any effort to spread car
sharing beyond the metropolitan areas is a good thing.
Cooperation could make a big difference. If you could join with other CSOs
to obtain insurance, purchase vehicles, operate billing and reservation
systems, etc., it might make an operation less daunting for an individual
CSO. If starting a CSO were as easy as opening a Burger King, we might see
the former proliferate almost as much as the latter. Without cooperation,
we never could have started; we owed our existence to Dave Brook and
CarSharing Portland! If some sort of cooperative network had been in
existence, we probably could have kept our CSO going through a local
I hope this information is helpful.