Car sharing and free parking spaces: it’s all how you look at it

Silver_yaris_in_pod_car_share_bay_lower_resCar sharing is a thing of beauty, let’s just be clear about that. So it bewilders me that there seems to be a move amongst many local councils to discourage it by charging increasing amounts for parking permits. The rationale, driven by residents, is that ‘someone’ is making money from a parking space and that is ‘bad’, and it’s not fair when residents should have all the spaces.

Every car-share car represents 10 cars that people do not own. That’s 10 cars not fighting for spaces. That’s 10 residents sharing one parking space. That’s simply fantastic use of a shared resource that makes life better for other individual car owners by freeing up parking spaces. All of this is good for local residents and good for local councils (although, cynically, the later may be incentivsed to have people paying for rare parking places).

But to make car sharing work it is absolutely crucial that the shared car has a dedicated spot – you have to know where to go to get the car and where to leave it at the end of your share.

Now I get that there’s a knee-jerk reaction amongst drivers when they see an empty car share space that they cannot use. I get the knee-jerk frustration. But it behooves those in government to take a wider and longer view and look to the benefit of everyone, not just the frustrated car-owner who wants a parking spot and can’t see the bigger picture.

Take a look at Norway which now has 24% of new car registrations from electric cars. That’s not happening by chance it’s happening because the government has made a determined choice to actively encourage electric cars because that’s the right thing to do. They forgo taxes, provide free charging stations, don’t charge for parking, and so on. In spite of knee-jerk frustration from fossil-fuel-powered cars. I’m not arguing, here at least, about electric cars in Australia – but the point is that a government taking a clear-sighted view of the benefits can make a real difference.

That’s what the local and State government ought to be doing: Everything they can to encourage car-share schemes – and by doing that help with congestion on the roads, pollution, commute times, and much more. Just because along the way someone might make some money out of a car-share scheme, doesn’t change any of those social-good dynamics. In Norway, to continue the analogy, Toyota is making money from selling electric cars; that doesn’t make electric cars bad. The great thing about encouraging schemes like GoGet is that government gets all the benefits without having to do any of the work organising the scheme or risking funds on investing in a fleet. It’s a quick and easy fix to many problems.

Car-share schemes are not everyone’s cup of tea, as I wrote several years ago: “Mostly though it’s a matter of psychology. You have to get your head around not having a car – which is often seen as strange in our society.” In the same way you have to see that empty car-share space not as a space that it being denied to you unfairly, but as a representation of nine other spaces that are being freed up for you elsewhere. Even if the individual driver can’t see that, government certainly ought to.

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