What determines the demand for carsharing?

April 3, 2015

Carsharing has become a viable transportation option the world over. A new study, Empirical analysis of free-floating carsharing usage,  analyzes customer demand for carsharing in Berlin and Munich, finding that both location and time of day impact customer choice. The researchers’ goal is simple: “to describe carsharing usage and to identify factors that have an influence on the demand for carsharing.”

Bicyclist and cars share Berlin street

Image from Sascha Kohlman.

Car ownership is falling out of favor, especially with young adults, point out the researchers. “For decades, the privately owned car carried very high importance as a status symbol,” they note, but today — in a climate where mobile phones, not hotrods, are the most covetable modern technology —  that status is quickly dropping. And the number of vehicle miles traveled per capita, as well as the percentage of those with driver’s licenses, are also dropping in many countries.

Cities still battle traffic woes caused by continuing urbanization and the related bump in population growth in cities, though. Solutions include environmentally-friendly options like improving bike infrastructure and pushing public transport. “Carsharing is one of these new services: it is becoming an integral part of the cityscape in many big cities today,” say the researchers.

Researchers analyzed booking data for one “free-floating” carshare company in Munich and Berlin, which, at the time of the research, supplied about 300 vehicles in Munich and 600 in Berlin. “Free-floating” carsharing systems, such as car2go, are services that are usually provided by car manufacturers, can offer one-way trips, and don’t use stations. Researchers looked for patterns using data collected both from carshare companies and from external sources, with data including timestamps, GPS coordinates, vehicle and customer IDs, trip type, distance covered, time in driving mode and time in parking mode.

Time and location both played strong roles in consumer carsharing demand, the researchers found. They found that in terms of time, weekdays were correlated with increased demand, with Mondays faring the worst but bookings increasing steadily over the course of the week. As for location’s impact on demand, they discovered that demand was “mostly concentrated within a few areas.” They also found links between these two aspects, finding that, on Mondays, for example, there’s a gap between vehicle demand and supply, which means the carsharing company has to work to move its cars to its customers.

The research team discovered that there are both short- and long-term influences on demand. Weather changes are a short-term influence, for example, while socio-demographics exert more of an impact on long-term demand. Checking the weather forecasts might help carsharing companies: “By using reliable weather forecasts, operators could move cars to places where they are most likely to be needed and aid people responding to changing circumstances.”

Regarding socio-demographics, the researchers found some more room for improvement for carshare companies: “Knowing where potential customers live is important for operators wishing to expand services into new parts of a city or into additional cities.” The researcher’s discoveries can also save carshare drivers time: They might make necessary service trips while customer demand is low, for example.

Future research will increase as the demand for carsharing does, say the researchers, who plan to continue studying carshare demand in other cities, as well as the impact of weather and demographics, in more detail.

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Category: Transportation

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