Op-ed: Carsharing and Travel Behavior

This article from Friso Metz was posted on Eric Britton’s World Streets Blog  It has some good insights on the consumer’s process of considering carsharing, changing thinking patterns, and eventually changing travel behavior.  


Carsharing has a great impact on the travel behavior of people. In the literature on the subject’s attention to the question of how large these effects are. There is less attention to the question of why auto so strongly intervenes on behavior. Lately, I am very active with the subject carsharing been busy. Because I am also working a lot with behavior modification, it is time to examine the relationship between these two themes. Below I do a first step. I’m curious about your response!

 Carsharing: paying for mobility in a smart way

The idea behind carsharing is that many cars stand still for a great part of the day. A pity really, because for many households a car is a big investment that is used only incidentally. For people who drive only little, but occasionally do need a car, car sharing may offer a solution. They can reserve a car and pay for the times they use it. A sympathetic idea, and from figures CROW KpVV  about The Netherlands show that more and more people discover the benefits.

Driving is expensive. But it is insidious that we do not notice this as well. The car has already been paid, and the monthly insurance and the taxes are paid automatically. If you do not fill up, you do not really notice that it costs money. The car is parked just in front of your house and soon it will be the default option for all your trips.

With car sharing, this is just the other way round. As car sharers pay per ride, they will see the cost of that one ride. Because these are high, they will think well before they book one. Public transport is soon cheaper (especially if you already have a subscription). You might even decide to cycle through the rain to a nearby supermarket for your errands. The car is no longer the default option, but has become the last option. Besides, taking a car out of habit is no option, since one needs to book it in advance.

The car as a status symbol

This may sound nice, but the car is not a great way to express your identity and status? Psychologist Gerard Tertoolen  wrote about the magical forces emanating from owning a car. Isn’t car sharing here at odds?

Sure, but not everyone adheres equally strong to owning a car. In other words, not everyone is a petrol head. For the still small group of carsharers it is the other way around: car sharing- and with that not owning a car – appears to be a part of their identity. These people are proud that they are sharing their mobility.

There is much debate about whether young people do not attach less value to owning cars. It is difficult to prove whether these things change with the ‘Generation Y’. But suppose you’re committed enormously status; then what about of booking a cool convertible via SnappCar? Take a selfie, post it on Facebook and mind your status!.

Convenience: car versus carsharing

Your own car just in front of your house, what an ease. For carsharing this isn’t possible. “Why so easy?”, carsharers ask themselves. Fuss with maintenance, costly repairs, unexpected high costs and saving for a new car: carsharers don’t bother about that.

So both car ownership and carsharing include convenience aspects. Car ownership is very interesting for us lazy people. And those high maintenance costs?  Many people just accept, “because the car already is expensive “. This phenomenon is called the “reference bias: a bias where people let themselves be guided by a reference point that does not even need to be relevant. Interestingly, many people find the maintenance of a bike expensive. A bicycle is seen as a cheap means of transport, and that should come as no cost.

Without a car you will get nowhere

The above is reasonably well known from the literature. Therefore, let us dig deeper.

People who don’t drive their cars very much, now and then will get in mind that owning a car is quite expensive, and that one might do many nicer things for this money than than driving from A to B. But if you then try to imagine what it’s like to go through life without a car, the bad feeling will come that you put yourself in isolation. “Without my car I can visiti my best friend along that lives in this outlying area.” “What if I suddenly need a car? ” Etc. People are afraid of losing that they own something. This is called loss aversion.

There is a large group that only makes a few car trips, but does not want to get rid of the car. Carsharing could mitigate this effect: if you do need a car occasionally, one could fall back on the shared car. In practice, it appears that car sharers not so often need a car as they first thought. In the course of the years, the number of rentals even decreases!

Trigger to break habits

All very nice, but how do you get people prepared to take the step to go car sharing?

The big question is how to break the habit of car use. Some time ago the Swiss Sylvia Harms researched this. In a stable situation, people develop habits. If one is satisfied with that habit, there is no reason to change. Harms calls this a few reasons:

– Cognitive blindness: people do not consider other options, or do this only superficially

– Motivational blindness: people do not consider options that go against their own convictions

– Uncertainty: new options bring a lot of uncertainty with it, preventing people to form a complete picture

– Social norms: people support rather what others say, than objectively weighing the options.

According to Harms, there are three ways to break “bad” habits: breaking through the automatic process and / or change the context in which the behavior occurs. Examples: a new job, a new family situation, moving or a new parking regulations in your street, your car is no longer allowed to hit the roads, , high repair costs. Such changes have an impact on a person’s need for mobility and can trigger people to think for example about car sharing.

85 percent of the participants in her study who owned a car before they started with carsharing, underwent an event that triggered them to go to auto parts. Even people with highly developed habits asked information about carsharing, although the chance that eventually went to do so, was small.

Changing habits goes step by step

According to the MaxSem model behavior changes usually not at once, but in stages. How do these phases work for carsharing?

1 Precontemplation stage.

People in this stage are not concerned with whether car sharing is something for them. This group will hear from the media or that car ownership is less ‘popular’. He / she may find this positive in itself.

You might respond to “cognitive dissonance”: some of these people use their cars relatively little, but still attached to the possession of it. Do they realize just how little they actually use the car, and how much this all costs?
Obviously, carsharing should fit within their lifestyles , if we want people to be openminded towards it.

2 Contemplation stage

People can get interested in carhsaring or renting out their own cars, because of a trigger (see above). They are not yet doing it. Maybe they have never thought about or are never confronted with it as no family, friends or colleagues are active carsharers.

This group likes driving a car, but is not negative towards public transport and cycling.

If other people are excited about carsharing, this will has impact. Also, objective information is useful: how does it work? What does the current car ownership cost? Which car sharing concepts are available nearby? What are the pros and cons? What are the risks if you share your own car with others? Behaviour aim of this stage: people think that car sharing might be interesting for them.

3 Preparation
Whether a person actually decides to start with carsharing, depends on amongst other:

  • the extent to which routines are ingrained;
  • personal values ​​and attitudes in relation to other modes of transport;
  • how radically the behavior change is.

The greater the change, the smaller the probability that people will take this step. To put away a car that you use a lot, is a big step. Putting away the second car that frequently is standing still, is a far smaller step. Especially if you have the ability to use a shared car in case it is really necessary. For those who already regularly travels by public transport, the change is easier than for an diehard car user. They see car sharing as a means to maintain their auto-poor lifestyle. Some ‘heavy users’ of public transport will find car sharing unnecessary.

4  Action

If you get rid of your own car, trying out the new option of carsharing is not really an option. Suddenly you are a car sharer. If you discover too many negative aspects of carsharing, you might decide to buy a car again. With peer-to-peer carsharing, things seem more gradually. You might try to rent a car from your neighbors or try to rent out your own car. If you like it, you could decide to do this more often.

5  Maintenance

Once a car sharer, then chances are that people make fewer car trips.

The group that doesn’t own a car, may, if they like carsharing, come to the decision point not to purchase a car anymore. Those people will not develop a habit to just take the car for all kind of trips.


  • do not focus on the people in the early stages
  • encourage people to try it out (eg. rent a car via p2p carsharing, or renting your own car)
  • get people in the “contemplation stage” start thinking whether carsharing is something for them

Carsharing: when will it become the norm?

At this time, the group of carsharing is still very small. So if you are a carsharer, you are something special. While it is quite normal that you own a car nowadays. The media have given a lot of positive attention for carsharing in the past years. That is a support for that small group who sees itselves less and less as an exception, and increasingly as modern and innovative. The more people start with car sharing, the more normal it will become to do so. So the question is how fast the development will speed up. Word of mouth will help to accelerate the growth process. It is therefore useful to consider how to encourage car-sharers to share their enthusiasm with others.

* This article was originally posted in Dutch at http://kpvv-reisgedrag.blogspot.nl/2014/10/hoe-beinvloedt-autodelen-het-reisgedrag.html


Syvia Harms, From routine choice tot rational decision making between mobility alternatives, Swiss Transport Research Conference, 2003

TNS Nipo, Monitor autodelen: wordt de markt volwassen?, 2014

KpVV dashboard duurzame en slimme mobiliteit, Opnieuw forse groei: 11.210 deelauto’s, 110.000 autodelers, 2014

Friso Metz, Staat jouw doelgroep open voor gedragsverandering? KpVV weblog reisgedrag, 2013


# # #

About the author:

friso metzFriso Metz is a mobility management expert, program manager and human behavior specialist in the CROW-KpVV Knowledge Platform for Traffic and Transport. Working with in-depth information and international expert networks KpVV supports local and regional authorities in the development and implementation of policy in the field of mobility. At KpVV Friso Metz writes regularly on information, choices and influencing behavior.