Hong Kong car-sharing start-up breaks new ground in mainland

By Nicole Zhang Yang 08/05/2015

HONG KONG — As the first and only local peer-to-peer car rental platform, Carshare.HK has marked the birth and growth of the car-sharing business in Hong Kong and started pacing its road to the market in mainland China.

In 2013, founders of Carshare.HK won the first prize at a start-ups conference in Tin Hau organized by CoCoon. Soon after that, their fame won the heart of an angel investor who provided a 1 million Hong Kong dollars investment to help them get everything start.

The website, Carshare.HK, allows customers to rent cars directly from other car owners. Two years after its website was launched, it already has 20,000 members with over 2,000 cars available for short-term rental.

In mid-2014, the start-up opened its door in Shanghai and successfully attracted 1,000 car providers in two months. “There is a huge market in mainland containing large demand of car sharing,” said Lai Mei, the Customer Service Manager of Carshare.HK, adding that they were targeting Shenzhen as the next foothold.

The company also cooperated with the Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD and launched a new project last month. With five e6 cars provided by BYD, Carshare.HK members get a chance to rent an electric car for HK$199 a day, with a free battery recharge and parking spot.

“In the way of car sharing, we hope people can try driving electric cars and realize the benefit of new energy,” said Lai, adding that the project has gone smoothly with over 100 orders in the past month.

Andy Lieuw, a freelance photographer, rented one of them last week, which was already his second time ordering a car via Carshare.HK. “It saves money because they provide free parking space,” he said, adding that the renting price was fixed, but other costs such as oil, parking, tunnel fee could be expensive during driving.

Lieuw is fond of renting cars when he travels overseas, but he notices that such service is not so popular in Hong Kong. “Apart from the need of traveling, the other reason I rent the car is to try the feeling of driving in Hong Kong,” he added.

Like many other start-ups, Carshare.HK also struggled before it tasted success. “At the time we started the business, few people in Hong Kong knew about P2P car sharing, so the biggest challenge is to spread the idea and build the trust,” Lai said.

To ensure all sides’ interests, Carshare.HK strictly verifies members’ identities and qualifications, requiring all drivers to be at least 25 years old with at least a two-year ownership of the driving license. For the first-time registration, they must submit their ID cards, licenses and addresses, and also sign an authorization for Carshare.HK to check their previous records of traffic offense.

The insurance is another key factor to get the business into gear. After contacting two dozen companies, Carshare.HK finally convinced a local insurance firm DirectAsia to customize a set of insurance plan for the P2P car rental service, basing on distance calculation.

In case anything happens, drivers need to provide a HK$8,000 deposit via credit cards in advance for possible compensation. After they returned the cars, the deposit would be refunded deducting the renting price and insurance fee, according to the company’s official website.

Besides, Carshare.HK equips every rental car with a traveling data recorder to document the vehicle’s movement, such as the driving distance, a sudden acceleration or braking and any collisions on the road. If accidents happened, the data would be essential to the settlement of insurance claims.

To cover its spending, Carshare.HK takes 30 percent of the renting fee as commission, but financially it hasn’t broken even yet. “Since we’ve build the reputation and spread the name, we expect more business cooperation in future,” Lai said.

Carshare.HK’s website http://www.carshare.hk/faq/renter

Car sharing: A two-edged sword to air pollution

By Nicole Zhang Yang 06/05/2015

HONG KONG — The car-sharing idea seems to be an effective solution to reduce the number of private cars in the city, as people can rent a car instead of buying one for occasionally use. However, whether it could really benefit the environment and reduce the emission of automobile exhaust in the city remains in dispute.

Peter Brimblecombe, the Associate Dean and Chair Professor at School of Energy and Environment at City University of Hong Kong, said the benefit was limited because the car-sharing service actually encouraged more people to drive, but it was still helpful in certain respects.

“Car sharing is a way to more limit the vehicles, so you have less vehicles occupying less space and ultimately the city is less congested,” he said, adding that when the traffic flowed more smoothly, the driving time would be shorten with less pollution.

“The other thing is that it takes the energy to build the car in the first place, so sharing cars may minimize the energy to build the cars,” Prof. Brimblecombe added.

Other social activists think the environmental influence of the car-sharing concept may depend on the true mission of the company. “If it refers to the business of car rental, it may promote the use of private cars and make the situation worse,” said Loong Tsz-wai, the Regional Relations Manager of Hong Kong Clean Air Network.

“But if it means sharing spare seats with others, it would play a positive role,” Loong said, adding that making good use of spare resources was also a way to improve the use efficiency and reduce unnecessary waste.

However, when it comes to the air pollution control, car sharing isn’t a pleasant option to Loong. “After all, private car is not quite environmental friendly in respect of its high level of carbon emissions per person,” he added.

Mong Kok Road is occupied by vehicles after nightfall. By Nicole Zhang Yang

Hong Kong has the third-most vehicles per kilometer of road in the world, with over 460,000 licensed private cars in 2014, accounting for 70 percent of all registered vehicles in the city, according to a study conducted by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

The World Health Organization ranked Hong Kong 559th out of 566 cities in air quality in 2012, as the study mentioned. It was estimated that there were 3,000 premature deaths and more than seven million hospital visits in the city as a direct result of air pollution.

To make a difference, Prof. Brimblecombe said effective options included raising people’s awareness of sensible use of cars, improving the maintenance of vehicles to reduce emissions and ensuring public transport to be comfortable and enjoyable to most people.

“I haven’t owned a car since 1972,” said Prof. Brimblecombe. “I don’t particularly enjoy driving and environmentally it doesn’t make much sense.”

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s study https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-022514-131802/unrestricted/IQP_FoE_FinalReport.pdf

A sharing economy gives the taste of bittersweet

By Nicole Zhang Yang 05/05/2015

HONG KONG — Born with applause and censure, the sharing economy has embraced a global thriving phase in recent years, in the meantime seizing the public’s attention to its potential benefits and risks as well.

The sharing economy is a way for people to exchange their personal resources, varying from homes and cars to parking spots and Wi-Fi networks, or even their time and talent. A survey conducted by Nielsen last year revealed that two third of its global respondents were willing to join a sharing economy.

In Hong Kong, although the sharing economy remains in the start-up stage, it already has several local practices, such as the online peer-to-peer car rental platform Carshare, the travel supplies sharing provider Rent-a-Suitcase, and the luxury fashion rental website LuxTNT.

Dr. Ip Fu-keung, professor of the Department of Applied Social Science in Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the sharing economy could enable small and medium size enterprises to survive and prosper. “It would contribute to a more diversified economy, avoiding big corporations to dominate the market and restrict consumer choices,” Prof. Ip added.

Dr. Terence Yuen, professor of the Centre for Civil Society Studies in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said another advantage of the sharing economy was the resource integration can largely reduce the marginal cost. “Once the sharing economy takes up 10 percent of the market or above, it would has a huge effect,” he added.

Wong Ying Kay, the co-founder of a local co-working space provider Good Lab, highly praises the power of the sharing economy. She once said in an open lecture that the charm of a sharing community was its capability of self-sufficiency and sustainable development.

When some people see the positive side of the sharing economy, others also voice concerns about its potential risks.

Patt Morrison, a columnist who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, mentioned two main drawbacks of the sharing economy — unfair competition and tax evasion — in an opinion piece she wrote for LA Times last month.

“Big money is changing hands, and it seems that none of it going to pay the taxes and fees that it should,” Morrison wrote, adding that a sharing economy should also share its social responsibilities.

As a matter of fact, Uber, the taxi booking app and also a product of sharing economy, has faced a number of legal challenges around the world. The recent one was on Wednesday when its offices in Chengdu were raided by Chinese transport authority for illegal private-car hire, six days after the last raid of its Guangzhou branch.

Apart from potential illegal practices, a sharing business may also face risks from outside. “A sharing economy is probably much smaller, hence their ability to deal with external shocks may not be very strong,” Prof. Ip said.

As to Hong Kong, Prof. Ip believed it would take effort to develop a sharing economy for the government’s policies favor individual business. “At best social enterprises are symbolically encouraged to grow via limited government funding and labeled as poverty relief measures,” he added.

Nelson’s survey http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2014/is-sharing-the-new-buying.html

Patt Morrison’s opinion piece http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-taxing-new-underground-economy-uber-airbnb-20150324-story.html