By Jennifer Dill, Ph.D.
Professor, Urban Studies & Planning
The sharing economy is getting a lot of attention these days, both good and bad, from policymakers to Portlandia. We’ve been studying one type of sharing—peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing. Carsharing allows individuals who want access to a car to rent one rather than having to deal with the cost, hassle or commitment of ownership. Traditional carsharing companies, such as Zipcar, provide a fleet of vehicles located near residential or employment concentrations that members can rent. P2P carsharing is similar, but involves one private citizen renting a car from another, usually facilitated by a company that manages reservations and payment and provides additional insurance.
Our research has two main objectives. First, we’re looking at whether P2P carsharing will reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and car ownership. Research on traditional carsharing shows that it can reduce driving by affecting the behavior of the renter, by making costs more explicit and by reducing ownership. With P2P carsharing, we’re also looking at the car owners’ behavior. The hypothesis is that owners might leave their car at home more often so that it is available for rental, thus earning more income. The second objective is to see whether P2P carsharing expands mobility options in economically and socially diverse areas. This might happen because traditional commercial carsharing companies typically locate vehicles in economically strong, relatively dense areas, whereas P2P vehicles could be anywhere people own cars they are willing to share. And, vehicles may also be more affordably priced.
Our three-year research project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, is nearing the end of the data collection phase. We recruited 334 car owners and 465 car renters to participate in the study. They all live in the city of Portland and are participating in Getaround’s P2P carsharing service. We’re collecting pre, interim, and post surveys, as well as using GPS data from the vehicles to measure changes in VMT. We’re still processing the millions of GPS data points, and finishing up surveys from several participants, but we do have some early findings to share.