Sydney: Ambitious Draft Car-Sharing Policy

Clover The City of Sydney just released its Draft Car Sharing Policy (Item 4 here).  The Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph has a respectful story here, although the print edition of the same story carried a more lurid headline, “Clover’s car wars speed up.” 

“Clover” is Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who has made the City a national leader in sustainable transport policy despite the relatively weak role of local governments in the Australian political system.

It’s important to note that the City of Sydney is small — only 177,000 of greater Sydney’s 4.5 million people, consisting of the CBD and innermost, densest neighborhoods.  Even there, public transit isn’t all it needs to be, with frequencies as poor as 30 minutes (and no evening service) for trips between inner city activity centres other than the CBD.

With that in mind, the statistics are looking good.

The growth of car sharing in the City’s area has been extremely rapid. Since 2007, the City has installed more than 190 dedicated car share spaces, catering for approximately 4,000 City residents and 500 City-based businesses. Membership is growing by some 180 residents a month.

It is estimated that the car sharing program has taken at least 550 cars off City streets and reduced on-street parking demand by at least 250 spaces compared to business as usual.

And unlike many governments, the City of Sydney is explicit that rising car ownership is a problem for a city with finite space:

The City of Sydney has the lowest rate of household car ownership in Metropolitan Sydney, at just 0.72 cars per household (in 2006). In many City neighbourhoods, however, household car ownership levels are rising quickly, with serious implications for parking availability, traffic congestion and resource consumption. Increased car sharing can slow growth in household vehicle holdings.

The goal is to raise carshare membership from the current 4000 (out of 90,000 households) to 9000 or 10% of all households.  They estimate that this can be achieved with a car share fleet that would be 1% of the total fleet registered in the city.  In other words, there’s the potential to replace the ten cars now owned by ten households with a single shared car.

The City will now require inclusion of car-sharing spaces in new high-rise residential development.  The Sydney Morning Herald grabbed that point as the lede:

ALL large new apartment blocks in inner-city Sydney must have parking spaces for car share vehicles, according to a City of Sydney proposal, the latest move by a council to discourage vehicle ownership.

Large residential blocks will have to include one car share space for every 50 regular spaces under a draft Development Control Plan endorsed by the council’s traffic committee last night.

An adequate supply of car-share cars in a high-rise building can reduce the building’s overall parking needs, which is a key step toward making high-rise units more affordable.  Residential towers are one setting where car-share vehicles can be closer to home than your own car — since their reserved spaces will be closer to the elevator than your own car would be.

The division of metropolitan Sydney into more than 40 city governments is mostly a barrier to good planning, but it does have a positive side for the inner city.  With its CBD-driven tax base and exclusively high-density, inner-city population, the City of Sydney has both the resources and the political consensus to drive aggressive change.  There’s plenty of controversy about the details; everyone loves cycle lanes, for example, as long as they don’t take “my” on-street parking space.  But the broad sustainability context of the City’s work, and the need to restrain cars, is not controversial.  Given the continued development of high-rise residential, I’d gamble on the city exceeding its target to have 10% of residents in car sharing, even if the costs of car ownership stay roughly the same.

Full disclosure:  I do occasional consulting work for the City of Sydney, but not in the area of car share policy.

13 Responses to Sydney: Ambitious Draft Car-Sharing Policy

  1. John Perry October 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Car-sharing is really a genius way to encourage alternative transportation in the long run – by using ZipCar, my family was able to sell their own car and use a car only when taking public transit was too inconvenient. For my family, this was huge – they had grown up in places where owning a car was seen as a necessity and ZipCar really helped wean them off from overdependence on a private vehicle, which seems to have had better long-term consequences then having being forced to go cold turkey all at once (I think if that had happened, then they would have been desperate to get back to owning a car).
    If more cities were to follow Sydney’s example, it could have immensely positive consequences. That move from owning a car to not using a car is easier to facilitate when you take it step-by-step.

  2. anonymouse October 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Car sharing is an excellent transitional step between car-based and public transit, because in most cities, 99% of the time you really don’t need a car, but that 1% is what gets you. But I see car sharing as more of a way to cover the gaps in areas where public transit is not quite there yet: I use ZipCar quite regularly in San Jose, and wish there were more cars, and in Boston I’ve used it to travel to the suburbs where commuter rail service is sparse. Inside a central city, it doesn’t seem hugely useful aside from the fairly rare trip to buy furniture or something.
    As an aside, I really hate the term “alternative transportation”, because it places it in opposition to cars, which are of course ordinary transportation for ordinary people. You know, as opposed to alternative transportation for people of alternative lifestyles.

  3. Simon October 12, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    Mandating a car-share space in new high-rise apartment buildings seems like a reasonable move, but it would be more effective to ban (or at least radically limit) all off-street parking provision in new housing.
    Dead right about the unique political circumstances of the City of Sydney – it’s got a lot of potential for that reason to be a vanguard for other councils.

  4. Ed O October 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Walking around the residential streets near the Sydney CBD in areas like Surry Hills, you see the car-share vehicles in marked parking spaces on nearly every corner. The car-share system is user-friendly in itself, but having so many cars available makes the whole scheme, so much more accessible and attractive, and the arguments for keeping a car in the inner-city really start to fall away.
    One of the interesting things about car-share is that drivers are aware of the cost of each trip – and although it’s very easy to book and jump into a car – you modify your car usage to try to keep your monthly bill down. For some trips and on some occasions, nothing but a car will suffice – and with car-share, you maintain your ability to move around the city as any other motorist at these times, but on a day to day basis, there’s the ongoing incentive to consider walking, cycling and transit as options first. Encouraging more efficient and rational use of cars is another way car-sharing schemes are such a brilliant idea in helping to reduce the impacts of cars in urban areas.

  5. Caskings October 13, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    I wish Brisbane City Council would be even half this proactive. They seem to be actively hostile to car share programs.

  6. Tom West October 13, 2010 at 6:14 am #

    Car share programs always seem to be in dense inner city areas. I did think that was because these araes tend to have good transit provision, and that car share users are people who mostly use transit. However, you seem to find car share schemes in all inner city areas, regardelss of transit mode share, which suggests that the real driver of car share demand is the cost/availabiltiy of parking.

  7. Simon October 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Population density might be a factor in car-sharing locations – having enough people within walking distance of a car-share space.

  8. E October 13, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    When I lived in Woolloomooloo (don’t you love all those Os?) which is considered an inner-east suburb of Sydney, I took the train to work from Kings Cross to North Sydney, via Town Hall, but when I wanted to go into the City to shop or to a movie or to a performance at the Opera House, I walked. I think the same is true of people who live in East Sydney, Darlinghurst, Paddington and other inner-east suburbs, or the western edge of the City and the inner west suburbs. A car-share program may have come in handy but I can’t think of a single instance where it would have been absolutely necessary.

  9. Simon October 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    I live in the inner-east of Sydney and used to belong to a car-share scheme. I eventually quit it because I never used it. The per-hour pricing scheme made most trips expensive because you had to pay for the time you stayed at your destination – for me that was usually a few hours. It was usually cheaper (and definitely easier) to just hail a cab.

  10. Jarrett at October 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Simon.  Yes, car sharing's best use is for fairly short errand trips where you need a car to haul stuff — e.g. bi-weekly trips to a big box retail or something.  I used it a lot in San Francisco, but never for trips where I was spending more than a couple of hours at a destination.  For that I used transit (which is much more versatile than in Sydney) and taxis.

  11. Terry October 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Tom. Car Share is in the inner city because in the burbs more people have the ability to park, so your assertion is partially true. But it is also about density, because low density makes the location of cars close enough to enough people difficult + the trip times and distances are such that it becomes financially uncompetitive for users. It is also important to note that many businesses are now using car share (500 in Sydney) as a way to minimise unproductive capital investment in fleet where use is not high, or where the occasional flexibility is more affordably met with car share. Car share also provides things like wagons and vans for those Ikea (shudder) moments.

  12. Jase October 18, 2010 at 4:04 am #

    Ive spoken to all the car sharing schemes about a tiny little carve out from the australian governments cash for clunkers policy. Instead of $3000 to buy a car, how about just $300 towards a year of car share? Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle is also all for it! It would be a boost to awareness and patronage beyond what clover could achieve, and would add genuine green credentials to what is a terribly wasteful idea.

  13. Brian Sandle January 23, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Car-sharing may or may not mean ride-sharing. Now there is software such as Avego which allows automated sharing of the cost of a ride. Ride-sharing reduces the number of single-occupier vehicles on the road.