Why Australian’s Have Been Slow to Adopt Car Sharing – and How That Is Changing

Car sharing services have been available to Australians for more than 15 years. Yet despite the fact that Australia boasts the seventh highest usage of cars per capita, they have been slow to accept car sharing as an alternative transport option.

As of 2019, car sharing is now available to Australians living in all major cities, but it continues to face an uphill battle for mainstream acceptance.

A 2016 report into car share usage found that those living in higher density, metropolitan areas in Australia’s two most populous cities of Sydney and Melbourne opted to maintain ownership of a lightly used car in favour of occasional car sharing. Amongst those surveyed, the main reason for avoiding car sharing services was that destinations could be easily accessed by walking, public transport, and bike riding. These groups maintained that having a rarely used car on hand whenever they needed was preferential to short-term rental services that posed an inconvenience and cost consideration with each use.

Car share users who previously owned a vehicle found that pay per journey share services heightened their awareness of the true cost associated with completing a journey. Because each car trip could be tied to a finite cost, uses were less likely to opt for car share services in favour of public transport or cycling.

The city of Sydney has had the highest adoption of car share users, with the number of people belonging to a car share services equivalent to 20% of the resident population. The city of Sydney council suggests that by facilitating car-share networks of 1,000 cars they are taking around 10,000 vehicles off the cities congested roads, clearing parking spaces, and increasing accessibility to commercial and residential buildings.

The general manager of Australia’s largest car parts retailer Sparesbox, Leon Saliba, suggested that increased congestion in Australia’s major metropolitan hubs has encouraged multi-car households to substitute second car ownership with car sharing.

The switch from owning to renting a car has a significant impact on travel behaviour. When users shift from being owners to renters, car usage is no longer the default option. Car share users continue to make journeys via car, but compared to owners, they drive significantly less and use a combination of transport options to complete a single journey.

In Australia, local governments have thrown their support behind car sharing systems and facilitated the establishment and growth of car share services for more than a decade. Local councils have recognised the wide-ranging benefits to uses and the greater community including environmental sustainability, increased public transport usage, housing affordability, and improved public health. Governments also cited car sharing as a means to alleviate congestion and parking stress in highly populated areas.

Car sharing services have been widely accepted and popularised in Western European countries since the 1990s. The first car-sharing firm in Germany, Stattauto, was launched in Berlin in 1988 starting out with a single car. Since then, Berlin has been the largest adopter of car share services globally. As of 2018, there are more than 140 operators in Germany with more than 1.5 million registered users and 20000 cars in an ever-expanding fleet according to figures compiled by the car sharing industry federation BCS.

According to consultancy firm Roland Berger, the car-sharing industry is still in its infancy in Western Europe and is projected to grow 30% each year and reach more than 5.6-billion Euros by 2020. Automakers have also identified car sharing as a means for users to experience and test their vehicles without committing to a purchase. Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have all partnered with car-sharing services in Germany as a way of expanding their marketing efforts and appealing to new audiences.

The concept of a shared car economy in China is also continuing to gain momentum. Shared mobility services, including car share services, have become popular amongst young Chinese users looking to increase mobility without the responsibility and ongoing costs associated with car ownership in densely populated cities.

Since 2014, the Chinese government have been taking measures to combat air pollution by encouraging and incentivising the car share economy with lucrative financial kickbacks. Plate restrictions (limitations on the number of cars that can be registered in densely populated cities like Shanghai and Beijing) have also positively impacted the cashier market by encouraging users to look for alternative transport options.

The Australian Government is continuing to partner with state and local governments to improve the implementation and facilitation of car-sharing services. Increasing adoption of P2P car sharing services that allow users to share the cost of car ownership with people who rent their car presents the biggest opportunity for growth in this segment. Similar to the Airbnb business model, P2P car sharing allows users to rent a car when they’re not using it as a means of subsidising costs.

Car sharing is still in its infancy in Australia. While adoption has been slow compared to their Western European counterparts, there are sure signs that Australians are becoming more invested in sustainable transport options.

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