Vancouver developers eye benefits of car-sharing

Modo, founded in Vancouver in 1997, counts 16,000 members

Developers embrace car sharing to save on parking costs while planners eye its impact on transit

When PCI Development Corp. trialled car-sharing in a heritage building conversion in 2006, the embrace by its strata was at best lukewarm. The building’s residents didn’t use it, and by 2014 the car was sold off. Car-sharing at the time was “more paperwork more cost,” says Brad Howard, senior development manager at PCI.—and in the age of Bluetooth hookups and heated leather seats, why would consumers give that up for a communal car? Flash-forward a decade and attitudes towards car-sharing have changed: these days, says Howard, “we love it.”

Vancouver is in the midst of a car-sharing boom, with developers eyeing it as an amenity and a way to save on expensive parking infrastructure and planners evaluating how much it should be incorporated into the future of development in the region. On Tuesday, a panel hosted by the Urban Land Institute tackled car-sharing and examined the degree to which it should be incorporated into the future of development in the region.

One of the close observers of the rise of car share is Modo—a Vancouver based co-operative that counts 16,000 local members who can access vehicles across 14 municipalities. But panellist Sylvain Celaire, Modo’s business development manager, is was quick to contrast his organization’s service with those of the eponymous blue-and-white Car2Go Smart Cars. Those vehicles, which can be parked nearly anywhere in the city, are one-way services that compete with taxis—Modo, which bases its vehicles in parking lots and inside offices and condo buildings and which are best equipped for longer trips, compete with car ownership. Modo, he argues, is replacing car ownership.

And that has led to partnerships with developers—over 100 to date—where vehicles are based in designated stalls. The win for developers is that they get to forgo costly underground construction of parking, as often required by municipalities—savings that Celaire estimates at $40,000 per stall. 

And the benefits are not just for developers. According to Metro Vancouver projections, Vancouver will add an extra 600,000 vehicles by 2050 as the region’s population increases by one million. And more vehicles means more space required for parking and more congestion—which is where TransLink comes in. For the public transit authority and local governments, the benefits are present but less clear cut. Car-sharing may reduce the number of cars on the road, but it often requires municipalities to forgo street parking revenues. And for TransLink, the political and practical considerations of building infrastructure for what are private, for-profit services, create a tricky set of tradeoffs, says said panellist Adrian Bell, the authority’s manager of transportation demand management. While for the time being the authority has adopted a hands-off approach, Bell added, “maybe we’ll be running a car share at some point in the future.”

And for his organization, the benefits are stark: transit use halves and driving doubles when a household acquires a car, and if a lever like car-sharing can convince potential drivers to forgo purchasing a vehicle (or a second or a third), the region wins with reduced congestion. “If we can decouple ownership and usage, we have a chance at a sustainable future,” he says.

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