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Car-Sharing Picking Up Speed in the Developing World

Meet Modo, the car-sharing co-operative in Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Canadian Veggie.


By Chhavi Dhingra and Rebecca Stanich

Car-sharing is a service that provides members with access on an hourly basis to a fleet of vehicles parked in a network of convenient locations — usually in dense urban environments. Car-sharing offers users access to a car, without the hassle and expense of owning and maintaining it. Users typically pick up and return the car to fixed locations around the city, and, using an automated check-in and check-out system, are charged for the time used.

Here are some of the basics:

  • Car-sharing is a type of car-rental. Unlike traditional car-rental schemes that have fixed hiring packages (usually by the day), car-sharing works on an hourly rental scheme.
  • Car-sharing is different from taxis. Unlike taxis, car-sharing is a self-drive and self-service mode of transport.
  • Car-sharing is different from carpooling. Carpooling is an arrangement among a group of travelers in which one car owner drives the others to or from a designated place. Car-sharing does not involve car ownership.

The current state of car-sharing in developing countries

Car-sharing is a recent phenomenon in developing countries, only taking root within the last three years. Although there are few car-sharing operators in developing countries, the number of systems is growing. Car-sharing is most active in Central and South America, which has five systems in operation, and in Turkey, with three small systems. Following those two areas, China currently has two car-sharing operators, while Zoom will mark the first car-sharing operation in  India.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Hector Garcia.


Brazil - The earliest adopter of car-sharing in the developing world. Founded in 2009, Rio de Janeiro's Zazcar was the first car-sharing system in South America. It is still in operation, along with at least two other car-sharing companies – GlubGT and Vamos.



Mexico City. Photo by Luis F Franco.


Mexico – In contrast with other developing countries, car-sharing in Mexico benefited from early support from local governments. The mayor of Mexico City attended the launch ceremony of the first car-sharing operation in the country. From the very beginning, Mexican car-sharing operators have strongly positioned themselves as an alternate mobility option to public transit service.


Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Victor Radziun.


Turkey – There are three car-sharing systems in Istanbul — Algita, Mobilizm, and YoYo – with a fourth opening soon. Fleet sizes are small, ranging from two to five vehicles. Modest growth in terms of fleet-size has been witnessed across Turkey's car-sharing industry over the past two years.



Beijing, China. Photo by Marc van der Chijs.

– While self-service car-sharing is just emerging in China, chauffeur-driven car rental service is thriving. Car rental companies offering shared rides or hourly chauffeurs are popular in China, and include eHi, a car-rental service by Volkswagen in Shanghai, and the Yongche car-share in Beijing. Some of these companies own fleets numbering more than 10,000 vehicles — which is more than the combined total of all car-sharing vehicles in the rest of the developing world.


Mumbai, India. Photo by A Kap.

- Up until now, there have been no traditional car-sharing systems in India. In 2011, a small car-share pilot with four electric cars was tested in the suburbs of Delhi by a local NGO, in partnership with a car manufacturer under a scheme called Rent-a-Reva. However, the scheme was abandoned after the partnership ended prematurely. If successful, Zoom will be the first full-fledged car-sharing service to operate in India.


EMBARQ's research into car-sharing

In light of the growing popularity of car-sharing in the developing world, EMBARQ sought to better understand the scope and implications of such a service across southern Asia's largest cities — focusing on India and China in particular. Metropolitan areas with over 10 million inhabitants, such as Shanghai and Beijing, China, and Mumbai, India, are defined as megacities.

EMBARQ India has been conducting a series of expert interviews, spanning academia and industry worldwide, to capture diverse views on this subject. Experts agree that India and China appear to be at very different points in the trajectory of advancement and acceptability of such a system.

China's urbanites seem to be embracing concepts like car-sharing and bicycle-sharing well, given the good design and accessibility of these systems. Interestingly, in China, car-sharing systems are used more as feeders to public transport, as opposed to main travel modes.

In order to understand the public's perceptions and reactions to these modes, EMBARQ analyzed the expert interview findings by conducting focus group discussions with working and stay-at-home residents in Bangalore, India, and Hangzhou, China.

Some of the issues EMBARQ India experts hope to address in their research include:

  • Given the negative externalities of increasing personal motorization, does an idea like car-sharing really fit in with the  current trends, policies, and development fabric of developing cities?
  • Can car-sharing wean people in India and China away from individually owning vehicles and move towards a system of sharing a pool of vehicles instead?
  • Can car-sharing's role complement the development and function of a public transport network in a city, i.e. act as feeder modes to mass transit systems?
  • Will car-sharing compete with existing paratransit systems, such as auto-rickshaws and taxis, in cities? Which one would people prefer more: using a self-drive service or a chauffeured mode, and why?
  • What kind of modifications would a typical car-sharing model require in order to suit the needs of developing cities and the individuals who are likely to use it?

EMBARQ India is now in the process of compiling its findings on this research, which will be published later this year.