Car sharing in Calgary: A look back, and ahead, following Car2Go departure
By Noel Harper, Staff Writer
When car sharing service Car2Go quietly left Calgary last year, after serving the city for the past seven years, a new, perhaps uncertain era of urban transportation began.
The service offered a fleet of small-to-mid-sized vehicles across the city for people to rent on their own time, without having to pay for parking or fuel. But soon this service will not be found anywhere else in Canada either.
Less than two months after the Calgary announcement, ShareNow, Car2Go’s new management as of 2018, say they will leave all of their North American markets by 2020.
These markets include two Canadian cities, Montreal and Vancouver, and American cities like Seattle and Washington, D.C. Car2Go continues to be offered in large cities throughout Europe, including Paris and Amsterdam, but ShareNow is also scaling back their operations overseas.
For Calgary, the idea of car sharing did not begin when Car2Go first arrived on the scene. It also likely will not end with their departure, given the interest presented by Canadian car sharing effort Communauto to fill the Car2Go-shaped void in Calgary’s transportation options.
How has the idea of car sharing in Calgary changed over time?
Past: Transport Transition
Before private car sharing companies got to the city, Calgarians took the idea into their own hands. In 1999, the Calgary Alternative Transportation Co-operative, which later became known as Calgary Carshare, was born.
The co-op consisted of a handful of cars parked in specific locations, mainly within the downtown core, and was maintained by volunteers. It was founded with the idea for participants to replace vehicles of their own, reducing car ownership overall in favour of other methods of getting around.
Tracey Braun was the operations manager for Calgary Carshare from 2014 to 2015 and served on the board from 2008. The co-op, according to her, caused users to think more critically about how they traveled through the city.
“You would pick up a vehicle and the vehicle has to come back to that location. You could book online for up to a year in advance … that model of car-sharing allows people to be much more thoughtful and much more impactful when it comes to car usage,” she says.
“When you suddenly have to think, ‘What is the most economical choice?’, car sharing doesn’t become the choice, it becomes one of many choices, in conjunction with transit, cycling or walking.”
The co-op, with Braun at the helm, ended in 2015, due to financial feasibility, but also because of the co-op’s unsuccessful attempt in completing its mandate over the years.
“[It was] about giving people transportation options, so we had a better cycle network, we had better transit, and combining those with car-sharing allowed people to really do things differently,” says Braun. “That … should be one of the goals for your organization, is to complete your mandate, close, and allow something new to come in.”
Braun was not fazed by Car2Go’s entry to the Calgary market, saying the co-op “didn’t see them as a competitor because … we have two completely different models.”
Present: Car2Go Commute
Emma Stevens has never owned a car and has relied on access to the Car2Go service for several years, ultimately changing her lifestyle around it.
For example, once her lease was up, Stevens realized, “The least expensive and the most convenient option for me was to continue living in a place that didn’t require me to have a car,” which for her meant staying in downtown Calgary, within the city’s “Home Area” for Car2Go.
“I’ve chosen to live right in the Beltline … close to where I work and close to transit,” she says, “But, I think if I moved even five or ten minutes further away from here, I would have to get a car.”
Stevens touts the community spirit of using the service to get around Calgary from the center of the city.
“I actually felt a lot of pride being a Car2Go member … I felt I was part of this group of people who lived [in the] inner city who didn’t want to own cars, who wanted to live this kind of flexible, urban lifestyle,” she says.
Stevens was caught off guard by Car2Go’s decision to leave Calgary, as to her, it appeared to be well-used and important to Calgarians.
“I was really stunned … I couldn’t imagine Calgary without Car2Go,” she describes, saying the service offered “a lot of overall benefits to the city, not just users, that weren’t maybe well communicated or well understood.”
Future: Closing the Car Sharing Gap
In late 2019, following Car2Go’s announcement, Calgary City Council entered crisis mode, meeting with the company to try and come to an understanding, but was ultimately unsuccessful in convincing them to stay.
Days before they were to leave, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, in an interview with radio station X92.9, said, “We are in discussions with a number of rideshare companies, one or two of them pretty advanced … there’s probably a market here,”
Car2Go’s departure represented a substantial change for Stevens, who views her choice as either purchasing a car or shifting away from the lifestyle she currently enjoys.
“[It] might be that … I’m not seeing and enjoying the city to the same ability that I was before, which I think is a real loss.”
Quebec’s Communauto is the current frontrunner to step into the Calgary market and is currently negotiating with the city to ease parking restrictions for their vehicles, with a target of Spring 2020 for an agreement to be set.
Braun is “doubtful” that another grassroots co-op will rise to take Car2Go’s place in favour of a private company like Communauto, but says that said company will adjust to Calgary with greater ease than Car2Go.
“There are enough people who’ve now had a taste of how car sharing works, and have integrated it into their lives, and would probably be comfortable moving to a different company and continuing that,” she says.