A Toyota Prius parked near Surrey Central SkyTrain station is one of four cars offered in Surrey by Modo

Car-sharing stuck in first gear in Metro Vancouver suburbs

Traditional services slow to expand but advocates see much potential beyond the city's core

While the City of Vancouver has bloomed as a mecca for car-sharing – three services rent out more than 700 vehicles to users who typically forgo owning their own car – the concept has been much slower to roll into Metro Vancouver’s more car-dependent suburbs.

Modo, Vancouver’s original car-share co-op, just added its third and fourth cars based in Surrey – both at the new Quattro housing project and they were both paid for by the developer.

The other two are at nearby Surrey SkyTrain stations and are Modo’s only four car-share vehicles offered south of the Fraser so far.

Another Modo minivan has recently been added at the River Market in New Westminster, its fifth shared vehicle in that city.

But the bulk of the co-op’s 275 vehicles are in Vancouver proper, with a small smattering in North Vancouver and in Burnaby near SkyTrain stations.

Even the Canada Line hasn’t yet brought Modo into Richmond, although the co-op aims to be there soon.

Marketing director Bernice Paul said car-share vehicles first need to be authorized to use on-street parking and a bylaw is expected to come to Richmond council this fall.

She said Modo will also look to Port Moody and Coquitlam once SkyTrain arrives with the Evergreen Line.

But she said most of Modo’s 9,000 members are in Vancouver and the co-op must provide cars where they’re wanted.

“We don’t have the luxury of pushing demand – buying and placing a car somewhere to try to build up membership,” Paul said.

Density, transit a must

While Modo and for-profit services Zipcar and Car2Go might seem a natural fit in neighbourhoods with less frequent bus service, observers say the opposite is true.

Good transit and dense, walkable neighbourhoods are essential because those are areas where more residents are apt to give up their own wheels and opt to rent for just occasional trips.

Users save the cost of owning, maintaining and insuring a vehicle they might rarely use and instead typically pay about $13 an hour, with gas and parking costs included.

They can rent the vehicle that suits their trip – car, minivan, SUV or truck – rather than being limited to the one they own.

Mike Soron, a Chinatown resident and executive director of the non-profit Sustainable SFU, uses only car-sharing services to get around when he isn’t walking, biking or taking transit.

He and his partner have memberships in both Zipcar and Car2Go so they can walk up to either service’s unreserved car, scan in and drive away.

“Having access to trucks and bigger cars is just fantastic,” Soron said. “We have zero vehicles but we have all these vehicles to choose from.”

He figures they save plenty of money, too.

“We don’t have to worry about unexpected repairs and expenses,” Soron said. “So it’s very low risk and it just makes driving less stressful.”

He sees plenty of potential for suburban growth, particularly in corridors where transit is slated to improve, and says cities can do more to help by relaxing parking requirements for developments that add car-share offerings.

Transportation blogger Stephen Rees, who lives in Richmond, said he wishes Car2Go would expand.

Unlike Modo and Zipcar vehicles – which must be returned to their home parking stall – Car2Go’s two-seater Smart cars can be taken on one-way trips and left on any residential street, provided it’s north of 49th Avenue and west of Renfrew in Vancouver.

Car2Go also offers a few cars at Kwantlen Polytechnic University campuses in Richmond, Surrey and Cloverdale, and a spokesperson said the service may consider extending that concept further.

Rees argues more Car2Go satellite zones near SkyTrain or Canada Line stations, or even some town centres, would work well.

If fewer people owned vehicles but still had good mobility through car-sharing, he said, they’d use transit more.

A new alternative?

Clark Williams-Derry, research director at the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, said the traditional car-share outlets are limited in their ability to expand rapidly.

But he’s a big proponent of an emerging new option, called peer-to-peer car sharing.

Under that model, people rent our their own vehicles to people they connect with through a service like San Francisco-based Getaround, which handles the transaction and provides insurance for a 40 per cent commission.

“The suburbs are perfect for this kind of thing,” Williams-Derry said, adding most residents need their car but may not use it for long stretches of time when it could be earning extra money for them.

Getaround claims its owner members earn an average of $350 a month and the service saw huge growth this summer after launching in Portland.

Users connect through Facebook and owners can limit who they rent their car to – perhaps only their Facebook friends or people they know through church.

“As you get more comfortable with it or want to use it as a second source of income you can open it up to more people,” Williams-Derry said.

Owners set their own prices and a rating system shows who has a trustworthy track record of past rentals. Getaround’s iPhone app remotely unlocks a car once it’s rented.

Getaround co-founder Jessica Scorpio said Metro Vancouver is “high on our list” of possible expansion areas but said there are no specific plans yet.

“We’d love to bring Getaround to Canada,” said the Ottawa native. “I think the Vancouver area would be great for our offering.”

The service’s insurance coverage system would need ICBC’s approval so members are shielded from all liability.

Williams-Derry calls peer-to-peer car-sharing a potential game changer that could rapidly pump up the number of rentable vehicles in places like Surrey and Langley, lowering the bar for residents who want to move to a greener, car-lite lifestyle.

“There are all these cars just sitting there, so it could be easy to scale up really quickly.”

ABOVE LEFT: U.S.-based Getaround lets car owners rent out their own vehicles, giving renters a huge spectrum to choose from – even pickup trucks, sports cars and dog-friendly vehicles. While a typical hatchback rents for less than $10 an hour, this all-electric Tesla Roadster will set you back $75 an hour; Above right: Getaround.com co-founder Jessica Scorpio says the service would like to expand into Canada and Metro Vancouver could be considered.