Energy Diet

On Driving and Car-Sharing

On February 7, the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation announced research documenting the rapid increase of car sharing. Members of car sharing clubs have jumped up by a factor of 4.5 over the last year in Japan.

The report also showed that car-sharing depots were 3.4 times more numerous than a year ago, and that the number of cars used for sharing was three times larger.

The number of car-sharing club members in Japan is relatively low when you compare it to car-sharing in other countries – Switzerland is the leader in car-sharing, while it’s had the most growth in the United States. Still, it is a significant change.

Japanese passenger vehicles produce 10 percent of total national CO2 emissions and one-fourth of a household’s total CO2 emissions. Can car-sharing be an effective way to reduce these emissions? If so, how effective is it?

A few studies I could find showed rather expedient results:
1. Car ownership dropped from 61 percent to 13 percent when drivers joined car-sharing clubs.
2. One local city’s pilot program for car-sharers averaged one car per 12 drivers.
3. Car-sharing club members drove 2,004 kilometers (1,245 miles), versus 9,365 kilometers (5,819 miles) for non-members per year.
4. Car-sharing clubs’ cars are usually eco-friendly cars.
5. Reduced space for parking may create green space.
6. Reduced car ownership saves consumers 450,000 yen a year

Nevertheless, I cannot give up my car right now. I defended this position to my wife Mariko, who suggested the new idea of car sharing.

Driving is one of best ways for me to feel that I am alive on this earth. As objects come within my sight on the road, I gain a new connection with the physical world. I love viewing and “reading” maps, and it is a real pleasure for me to experience those maps by driving a car. I’ll read a map before I start the ignition key, and then dig deeper into the landscape by driving the route.

That said, I can also give rational reasons for why I need a car.

I drive my car only two or three times a month, on average, for short trips, and drive longer distances maybe twice a year. I commute to the office daily by train. Why I am keeping a car at our house? The impact on the earth, and my wallet, is surely heavy.

Ms. Chizuko Hakamada, the PR manager of Park 24, Japan’s largest car-sharing company, got me to think ahead. She said the company plans to add another 1,000 cars by the end of this October and that members will increase on an average of 3,000 every six months. Park 24 is also increasing the variety of car offerings, including models from BMW, MINI, Fiat and others. Ms. Hakamada also pointed out that car sharing users are very casual: 80 percent of users book cars only 30 minutes or less prior to their trips. So people can choose a car suited to the situation, which makes it more convenient and enjoyable.

I haven’t reached a final conclusion on this, but I think car-sharing could be a realistic solution for my conflicted spirit on car ownership.


  1. Michele del Rio
    February 14, 2011, 2:13 pm

    Wow Tatsuo, I just discovered these car sharing programs, I think that they are an excellent idea. I am not sure if they would work in our Country as culturally we don’t tend to be very trustful in people who we don’t know. But I guess it’s a matter of time and proven efficiency before we start jumping on that wagon.

  2. Christina
    February 15, 2011, 10:25 am

    In the States, I’ve used Zipcar while traveling and it’s pretty seamless. The only times I’ve run into trouble are when you reserve the car for a certain time and then the person who had it before you doesn’t bring it back on time (getting at the trust issue Michele raised). But in general it’s a great solution for people who need cars only occasionally. That said, like Tatsuo, I’m not ready to sell my car just yet!