Understanding Impacts of Incentives on One-Way Electric Vehicle Carsharing: A Case Study of Car2go in San Diego

Move Forward
Apr 23 · 7 min read

Written by Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

With carsharing, individuals gain the benefits of private-vehicle use without the costs and responsibilities of ownership. One-way (or point-to-point) carsharing is a form of carsharing that enables members to pick up a vehicle at one location and drop it off at another. Typically, the carsharing operator provides gasoline, parking, and maintenance. Generally, participants pay a fee each time they use a vehicle.

A few popular free-floating carsharing services include:

* Car2go and DriveNow, recently joined forces to become SHARE NOW — a new joint venture between Daimler AG and BMW Group that consists of a connected ecosystem of five mobility solutions: one-way carsharing, transportation network companies (TNCs, also known as ridesourcing and ridehailing), multimodal trip planning, parking, and charging. The service includes more than 20,000 carsharing vehicles worldwide (including 3,200 electric vehicles) in 30 cities and 13 countries. Under this new joint venture, ReachNow, which operates carsharing and TNC services in Seattle and Portland, also joined forces with moovel to become REACH NOW, the multimodal unit of the joint venture. Ten percent of ReachNow’s fleet is electric with 720,000 electric vehicle (EV) miles driven in less than two years. Twenty-five percent of members have driven electric, which have saved more than 200+ tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

* Zipcar Flex — a free floating carsharing service comprised of approximately 300 EVs in London, UK.

* EVO carsharing operates a free-floating carsharing program in Vancouver, Canada using hybrid vehicles.

These are just a few examples of the numerous carsharing programs operating across the globe. As of October 2016, carsharing was operating in more than 46 countries and six continents, with an estimated 2,095 cities and approximately 15 million members sharing over 157,000 vehicles.

EV carsharing has the potential to reduce vehicle and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly if charged by a clean power grid. However, operating an EV carsharing program can present a number of unique challenges that may make it more difficult to manage than a carsharing fleet comprised of conventional vehicles. Common logistical challenges can include reduced driving ranges, increased vehicle downtime (due to charge times), and limited charging infrastructure. For these reasons, while EV carsharing tends to be more sustainable, it also can present notable operational challenges.

In the San Diego, California market, car2go began operating a centralized charging depot to charge their vehicles in their second year of operation due to insufficient public charging infrastructure. When a vehicle became depleted, car2go staff would regularly shuttle vehicles from their location back to the charging depot for recharging and then back to the service region. Recognizing these challenges, car2go sought to test different pricing and user incentives to reduce fleet rebalancing and charging required by program staff.

The Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a study of pricing/incentives applied to car2go’s one-way electric carsharing system in San Diego. At the time of the study (September 2014 to March 2016), this system was the only EV, one-way carsharing system with instant access (i.e., accessible without reservation) operating in the United States. The goal of this project was to develop and evaluate pricing/incentive structures for their members to improve system operational efficiency (vehicle redistribution, state-of-charge management, use of vehicles placed at public transit stations) and encourage shared vehicle use.

The study tested two incentives, each aimed at achieving separate goals:

1) The first incentive was structured to entice members to take vehicles to a region that was close to the central charging station. This aimed to reduce the need for staff to retrieve and redistribute vehicles between the central charging station and the service area. As part of this first incentive, car2go users were offered 10 minutes of driving credit, if they drove the vehicle approximately 15 minutes and parked it within a nine-square block zone. The incentive was designed to encourage existing customers to deviate slightly from their intended destination to position the vehicles in a more convenient location for recharging.

2) The objective of the second incentive was to help manage supply and demand (e.g., preventing an over-supply of vehicles in low-demand areas) by providing users with a 10-minute driving credit, if they drove a vehicle starting within two predefined regions for at least 10 minutes and parked it outside the zone. This incentive was designed to defray user costs as opposed to allowing the member to earn (or accumulate) credits. A member could only receive a credit for an amount of driving that was equivalent to or less than what they had done in an attempt to influence where the vehicles were parked.

The first incentive was available to any vehicle in the system whereas the second incentive only applied to vehicles starting in low travel-demand zones.

Researchers conducted a total of three surveys to evaluate how car2go members responded to the incentives. The first survey was administered before the start of the incentives, the second following the conclusion of the first incentive, and the final survey was conducted at the conclusion of the study (following the second incentive).

The study revealed five key findings:

* Survey respondents tended to include: a higher percentage of males (62%); individuals younger than the general population (45% were ages 25 to 34 compared to 19% in the region; Caucasians (73% compared to 43% in San Diego); and those with higher levels of educational attainment (more than 70% had a four-year college degree compared to 45% in the region). Although less diverse than the San Diego region, the sample was generally consistent with other carsharing studies, often with younger respondents and higher levels of educational attainment associated with carsharing early adopters.

* Seventy-two percent of the sample was aware of the first incentive prior to taking the survey. Of those, 22% (~16% of the total sample) received the driving credit. Respondents who had not taken advantage of the incentive, but had known about it, were asked why they had not used the incentive. Forty-three percent said that their final destination was rarely within this zone. Among the respondents that had received the first incentive, over 85% were satisfied with the incentive. Thirty percent of all respondents also reported that they noticed the vehicles had more charge than average after the incentive took effect.

* With respect to the second incentive, only 7% of respondents indicated that they definitely would position a vehicle outside the zone for a 10-minute driving credit. With a credit of 30 minutes, 65% stated that they would reposition the vehicles.

* Respondents generally preferred user credits (e.g., driving minutes) instead of a cash incentive. Eighty-two percent reported that they definitely or probably would have driven a vehicle to the charging zone in downtown in exchange for a 30-minute driving credit compared to 67% for an equivalent $12 cash incentive.

* Respondents indicated that increasing the incentive amount and extending the date when driving credits expired would induce additional users to take advantage of the incentive program.

While the incentives changed behavior for some respondents, the incentive amount may not have been large enough to cause considerable behavioral changes to significantly impact operations. However, given the right value, members would change their travel behavior to meet the objectives of the incentive policy (in this case an incentive to offset staff time associated with fleet rebalancing and charging). The study results indicate that transportation incentives can be an effective model for encouraging certain behaviors, such as increasing EV charging and encouraging system user re-balancing. Additional experimentation and study may lead to greater operational improvements and understanding for leveraging incentive programs within shared mobility systems.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the authors and does not reflect the views of Move Forward. For more information on this study, please see One-Way Electric Vehicle Carsharing in San Diego: An Exploration of the Behavioral Impacts of Pricing Incentives on Operational Efficiency. For more information on carsharing, please see the CarSharing Association.

Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a research engineer with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also Co-Director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) at the University of California, Berkeley.

Adam Cohen is a shared mobility researcher TSRC at UC Berkeley.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Originally published at https://www.move-forward.com on April 23, 2019.

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