Dude, take my car

Communauto plans to bring auto sharing to the suburbs by paying owners to lend their idle vehicles


If the grease spot on your driveway is perpetually growing because your car is idle 95 per cent of the time, Quebec car-sharing company Communauto wants to pay to take it off your hands. The company is in the middle of launching a pilot project it calls “peer-to-peer car sharing,” where it adds private vehicles to its fleet and reimburses drivers with about $20 each day the car is used, on top of covering their auto insurance for as long as they’re part of the service. Owners can sign up online and list which days their cars are available. Renters choose a listing in their area, and then pick up cars from owners’ driveways, returning them later refuelled. Both parties will be able to blacklist the other if one shows up or returns a vehicle late, or if a car is in bad condition or returned with damage.

If the project proves feasible, it will allow the company to expand its fleet of 1,100 vehicles without the huge costs of purchasing new cars and parking spaces. “This will be a first step in developing markets in the suburbs and less populated areas,” says Communauto CEO Benoît Robert. Most car-sharing companies, which have become increasingly popular in big cities in recent years, have yet to break into those potentially lucrative regions.

Martin Collier, a transportation consultant and the director of Healthy Transport Consulting, says there’s no reason why the novel idea can’t work. “Having people provide their own cars obviously leads to a huge savings,” he says. “Even if one per cent of people who own cars are willing to do that, it would be a huge increase in their fleet.” Collier says Canadians spend up to 15 to 20 per cent of their income on vehicles, even if they mostly just sit in the driveway, and that the promise of free insurance and $20 worth of beer money has the potential to lure a lot of users.

In the last month, about 120 of Communauto’s 21,000 members have expressed interest in the new program through a form on the company’s website. That’s far less than one per cent, but Robert says this is still encouraging. “When we started car sharing we had about 10 people.” Now, he says, with Communauto’s success over the last 16 years, “The base is there to build on. The only thing we need to start is people who want to participate.”

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