Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Doing Away with Cars as Property

This week I met a Jean Claude Puerto Salavert who founded Ucar, a car rental company in France, with a new perspective: reduce car ownership by providing people with the choice of renting cars at a lower price. His view is quite simple—by eliminating the idea of car as property, one can help reduce pollution. Jean Claude’s idea stems from his experience in France, where apparently people buy cars that can transport an entire family long distances. However, since they cannot afford more than one car, they buy a big car. Because big cars are expensive, they buy second hand cars that are ten or more years older. In short, people choose cars that are meant to serve multiple uses even if they may be inefficient because they serve a limited purpose.

By working with car dealers and companies, he hopes to reduce dependency on cars. While similar models can be found in “zip car”, Jean Claude’s idea appears more ambitious since he wants to change the notion of car ownership as a fundamental concept. He has written a book on the subject, Pour le prix de ce livre, vois pourriez avoir une voiture [For the price of this book, you could have owned a car], and which owing to my poor French knowledge will have to await a translation. But, I am told that the book, published in 2006, presents his arguments for reducing car ownership. He focuses on the following themes in encouraging people to consider sharing new cars for a low price: comfort, security, better image, savings, lower energy cost and decreased pollution.

At a time when the idea of car ownership is spreading in several developing countries, notably China and India, it is interesting to discover efforts to the contrary here in France. The idea may also be palatable for car companies, because Jean Claude does not argue against car use and is in fact working with car dealers to find mechanisms to make car rentals cheaper. What he is apparently trying to figure out is a way to get government assistance in his project. Perhaps if car rental sectors could be brought within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme conditioned on proven ability to convert car ownership and reduced emissions, the European Union may be able to consider this idea as part of its strategy to reduce emissions.

While discussing the idea with friends, I also learned that for some time the government of Belgium provided three years of free public transportation for citizens who gave up their car. That seems like another interesting idea, as well. Of course, the availability of public transportation and access to daily necessities in a geographical location is critical to making this idea work on a larger scale. But, it is certainly an idea worth considering as we face the prospect of increasing car ownership.

On separate note, when I inquired whether this model can be used to rent out cheap hybrid cars or electrical vehicles, the answer was yes, but not until charging stations are made available and the grid developed. That, of course, can take quite a while. It is interesting to note, however, that business entrepreneurs can find discrete opportunities as governments grapple to reduce pollution.

 For now, it is au revoir from a place with great public transportation.

 --Deepa Badri--

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