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Car Sharing in Vancouver

By Guy Dauncey

The Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) is a highly successful car-sharing co-operative, whose 1,534 members share 81 vehicles.

Car sharing started in Switzerland and Germany in the late 1980s, and has since spread to several other European countries, North America and Singapore. It is a small but rapidly growing phenomenon which is creating a revolution in personal transportation for the 21st century. Most people live in cities, but owning a car can be expensive and troublesome. The increasing level of car-ownership is also creating major headaches for planners, engineers, and the general public.

Public transport, walking and cycling, while essential, have many limits, which drive people to purchase their own vehicles, even though many don't drive enough to justify the trouble and expense of owning a car. Car sharing provides a very neat solution, offering all the benefits of car ownership without the worries of parking, theft, repairs, and maintenance, while reducing the number of cars on the road.

Vancouver is a fast-growing city on Canada’s west coast, where the car population is growing at almost twice the speed of the human population, and where the resulting volume of cars is causing increasing congestion, pollution, frustration, stress, and economic loss, as in so many cities around the world.

The Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) was founded in Vancouver in 1997 as a small non-profit co-operative. It has since grown to become one of North America’s largest car sharing groups, with 1,534 members who share 81 vehicles (one vehicle per 19 members), which are parked at various locations throughout Vancouver and nine other cities in BC. This includes 5 pick-up trucks, 13 mini-vans, and 2 gas-electric hybrid cars. CAN’s members also have sharing arrangements with car share co-ops in Victoria and Nelson (other cities in B.C.).

CAN’s Goals

CAN’s goal is to reduce the impact of automobiles on urban ecosystems by offering car-sharing as an alternative to individual car ownership. It aims to ensure that car-sharing is more affordable than owning a personal vehicle, and to make car-sharing accessible to people who can’t afford or who choose not to buy their own vehicle. CAN’s main activity involves the smooth operation of the co-operative. (For membership and technical details, see AGENDA September 2002).


CAN is a not-for-profit co-operative owned by its members, who own or lease the vehicles, and who control the co-op’s activities and direction through a democratically-elected board of directors. CAN has formal partnerships with VanCity Capital Corporation, the City of Vancouver (which allows the co-op vehicles to be parked in any permit zone in the city), and with a car rental company which provides discounts for members who want to rent a car for longer trips or vacations, or who want a larger, cargo vehicle.


When CAN was founded in 1997, it received start-up support from VanCity Savings Credit Union and The Co-operators, a major Canadian co-operatively owned insurance company. It also received a marketing grant from Environment Canada. Car share groups need size, since the bigger the group, with more cars in more locations, the more attractive it is to its members. CAN’s growth has been mainly stimulated by word-of-mouth and free newspaper stories, which create public awareness that car-sharing exists as a viable option. Membership is growing steadily, with 360 new members in 2002, 600 in 2003, and a potential 800 in 2004. It has been financially self-sufficient since reaching 550 members, and debt-free since reaching 1200 members. Its financial situation is now very secure, and 100% financed by members’ user fees. The members’ shares pay no dividends, and no interest.

New Directions

As the word has spread, a number of property developers have started to show an interest in providing car-sharing in new housing developments as an alternative to building the required parking. On Electric Avenue, a downtown condominium project, the developers were given permission by the city to build fewer parking spots in return for agreeing to buy cars for CAN which would be located at designated spots in the building’s underground parking, and encouraging the residents to join CAN. They expected 10% of the 426 residents to sign up, but were surprised when 26% did so. It costs around £6,000 to build an underground parking stall, each two stalls not built covers the cost of a vehicle, so with CAN’s car-sharing ratio being 19 members per vehicle, the developers quickly understand the math, and agreed to purchase seven cars. CAN is now discussing similar arrangements with developers on three other sites, with the support of the city’s planners. The city is also looking at the creating designated parking spots for car-share vehicles throughout the city, taking the spots out of existing public parking.

CAN is also engaged in a pilot 18-month commuter car-share program, where commuters combine the use of a CAN vehicle with the SkyTrain (overhead light rapid transit). Home-end users use a CAN vehicle to get to a SkyTrain station, and leave it there for others to use, while work-end users pick up a CAN vehicle when they get off the SkyTrain, and use it to get to work.

Car Sharing in Europe

Car sharing began in Switzerland in 1987, and Berlin in 1988. It has since spread to Austria, Italy, France, Holland, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and has become very sophisticated, using advanced special purpose software and offering integrated transport packages. In 1991, five CarSharing companies formed the umbrella organization, European Car Sharing (ECS). Since then the membership has grown 50% to 60% annually. Today ECS has 40 groups with members in 550 towns in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland.

In 1997, Switzerland’s car sharing groups merged to form Mobility Car Sharing, a professionally-run country-wide scheme with 65,000 customers who share 1,700 vehicles in 390 communities (1 car per 34 members), growing by 7,500 customers a year. Mobility’s Zuger Pass Plus is a highly popular regional season ticket in credit card format which offers members discounted access to car-sharing, public transit, the Swiss railways, car rental, taxi, bicycle, and various non-transport related services. Most European car share groups are run as businesses, not co-operatives. In Gothenburg, Sweden, the City of Gothenburg has bought into SunFleet Carsharing, and will have 30 shared cars at its disposal.

Car Sharing in the UK

Car sharing is becoming well established in the UK, with car share groups in 28 cities, including Bristol (162 members), Ealing (159 members), Oxford (60 members), and Edinburgh (370 members), with groups forming in 10 other cities.

Car Sharing in North America

In North America, there are car share groups in 50 towns and cities, most of which have started since 2000. Boston’s ZipCar has 4,200 members who share 131 vehicles (one per 32 members); Montreal’s Communauto has 3,500 members who share 170 vehicles (1 per 20); San Francisco’s City CarShare has 2,000 members who share 60 vehicles (1 per 33), and New York’s ZipCar has 1,650 members who share 53 vehicles (1 per 31); and Washington DC’s ZipCar has 2,200 members who share 41 vehicles (1 per 54). Most of the larger groups have doubled their membership in the last two years, and appear to be expanding at an average growth rate of 50% per year.

Carsharing has also taken off in Singapore, where the Japanese company Honda has launched an Intelligent Community Vehicle System. During its trial period, 50 members are sharing access to a fleet of 15 Civic hybrid gas/electric cars.

Car Sharing as a Solution for Urban Transport Woes

As car-sharing becomes established, it needs to be considered seriously as one of the major tools for more sustainable urban transport solutions. The evidence from Vancouver and Switzerland shows that as car-sharing expands, it becomes more attractive to potential members, and requires fewer cars per member to meet their needs. 80% of CAN’s members sold or donated their cars when they joined CAN, so between them, CAN’s 1534 members have taken 1,227 cars off the road, putting 81 car share vehicles on in return. The average CAN member drives 1400 km a year, compared to a greater Vancouver average of 6,000 to 24,000 km, producing 10 to 36 times fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases. The "make-up" travel is either done on foot, by bicycle, by bus, by SkyTrain, or is simply not done at all.

In Vancouver, with 1534 members, they share one vehicle per 19 members. In Switzerland, with 65,000 members, they share one per 34 members. When Switzerland’s Mobility CarSharing had 1800 members, in 1992, they shared one per 16 members. The higher the number of members, the fewer the cars that are needed.

In a typical city of 1 million people, with 400,000 car-owning households, an average household of 2.5 people may own 1.5 cars, for a total of 600,000 cars. If 20% of the households sold one car and joined a car-share group instead, assuming that 80% sold their cars on joining the group, this would take 64,000 cars off the streets, replacing them with 2,285 shared vehicles, assuming one car per 35 members. It took Switzerland’s Mobility CarSharing 14 years to grow from 28 members to 44,000, spread across the country. With wide policy and planning support, including financial support until a carshare group reached the break-even threshold of 550 members, a new group should be able to reach 20% of the car-owning population within ten years, creating a 10% reduction in the number of locally owned cars on the roads. If the budget for planned road upgrades and improvements was reduced to account for this decrease, the freed-up budget could easily support the necessary start-up costs for the car share group.

The benefits of car-sharing are not just a reduction in congestion, stress, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. They also include a reduction in noise, reduced transport costs (freeing up money to spend on other needs), increased equity in access to transport, an improved quality of life, and reduced pressure to pave over green spaces to create more parking.

In one specific instance, CAN was instrumental in helping the Mole Hill Community Housing Society in Vancouver’s West End reduce its parking needs from 110 to 28 spaces, when they agreed to host shared vehicles on the site. The space that would have been car park is now a community garden.


For further information contact :

Tracey Axelsson, Executive Director,
Co-operative Auto Network,
205-470 Granville St,
Vancouver, BC, V6C 1V5
Tel: 604-685-1393

Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, Victoria, B.C., Canada
First published in LEDIS, May 2004