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Montreal car-sharing services seeing a spike in usage

“We now have a mayor who campaigned on a platform of mobility and allowing for mobility companies to thrive and flourish in the city"

Thanks to its densely populated neighbourhoods, low rates of vehicle ownership and openness to varied modes of public transportation, Montreal boasts one of the highest rates of usage of car-sharing services of any city in North America.

Record recruitment figures and a new city administration that is an enthusiastic cheerleader of sustainable mobility indicate Montreal’s position as a top car-sharing city will endure. But car-sharing firms note that the cultural shift away from car ownership is still in the steady growth phase as opposed to rapid acceleration.

Car2go saw a 57 per cent increase in its year-over-year overall usage and a 40 per cent jump in membership over the same period. Josh Moskowitz, the regional director for car2go, said the election of Mayor Valérie Plante and her Projet Montréal party are the main reason for their upsurge.

“It’s a 180-degree shift,” he said. “We now have a mayor who campaigned on a platform of mobility and allowing for mobility companies to thrive and flourish in the city. This is unique in North America. We don’t see politicians campaigning on platforms loosening restrictions on car sharing. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

Although Vancouver remains the leader in car sharing per capita in North America, with 3,000 vehicles available to users (car2go has 200,000 members there), Montreal remains close behind with roughly 2,300 vehicles available and a growing inventory

“In terms of year-over-year growth, Montreal is definitely leading the pack,” Moskowitz said.

Montreal announced in May it was expanding the number of regions in which vehicles could be picked up and dropped off, including large areas of downtown. Cars can now be parked in 10 of the city’s 19 boroughs, with Verdun, Outremont and Ahuntsic-Cartierville added this spring. Under previous Mayor Denis Coderre, only electric cars were allowed downtown, which eliminated 95 per cent of all car-sharing vehicles.

Much of car2go’s membership growth came from the new boroughs. The key to expansion, Moskowitz said, is the move toward more free-flowing car sharing, where users can pick up and drop off a car wherever they like, within authorized boroughs, as opposed to the model that requires returning them to reserved spots. The companies purchase parking permits for each vehicle, for about $1,300 apiece, so cars can be parked in spots normally reserved for residents.

Access to parking is a major sticking point for car-sharing companies who face resistance from residents and city officials who fear they’re taking away spots in neighbourhoods that lack parking. Six years of arguments over parking in Toronto and strict conditions caused car2go to withdraw its services from Canada’s largest city last May. Toronto city council noted that car2go had racked up more than $1 million in parking fines because users parked in reserved spots; other car-sharing services there saw similar fines.

Montreal’s car-sharing companies have started offering larger vehicles to satisfy families. Car2go has added 100 five-seater Mercedes cars to its Montreal fleet, which now totals 510 cars. Its two-seater Smart ForTwo model, which account for most of its inventory, were problematic because children under 80 pounds couldn’t sit in the front seat by law.

Communauto has also added larger vehicles to its fleet of roughly 1,800 cars in Montreal, putting in 115 Prius V hybrid family cars to respond to demands for families who use the vehicles for longer excursions or camping trips. In Quebec since 1994, Communauto now has 2,000 cars in eight cities, including Ottawa, Halifax and Paris, France. Communauto now has 600 cars in its Auto-Mobile service in Montreal, 85 of which are electric. It expanded into Kitchener-Waterloo in April, and is eyeing a move into Toronto as early as this fall.

The company has been experiencing record growth every year, but Marco Viviani, the vice-president of development strategy, said the rises are stable but not exponential. Restrictions on parking and numerous city regulations are part of the problem, but the main impediment is the fears of potential users who worry that using a car-sharing service is too complicated, or expensive, even though both Montreal companies offer free membership.

With the new city administration, however, and a younger generation that is more open to the cultural shift of using a car as an occasional service as opposed to something that has to be owned, “the future is looking bright,” Viviani said.


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London, ON, Canada

©2018 by London Transportation Alliance.                   Photography Credit Scott Webb