The new year started with big waves in the car-sharing business as Avis bought Zipcar, which previously grew so much that it became a serious competition to traditional car rental services. Zipcar was one of the first car-sharing systems in the world and it’s very popular in the USA. Some days after this big news, I read in the Korean news that Seoul developed a car-sharing system, too. It officially started yesterday Wednesday, Feb 20th and I want to introduce some characteristics of a car-sharing system and what kind you’ll see in Seoul.
Sharing a car?
In general, a car sharing system is nothing else than an upgraded level of bike sharing systems. Instead of bikes, we’re speaking about cars, which can be used for a drive from some minutes up to the whole day. These cars are parked at a public place anywhere in town and everybody can use them, if he’s registered beforehand for the service. The user has to pay a fare depending on the duration of usage or if the service offers it, the user can pay a fixed monthly description.
Transport planners and business men around the world realized that it’s even possible to offer cars to share through an automated network. If we think about it, a car is used twice a day (on the way to work and again back home) or not more than a handful of times (shopping after work?) per week. Mainly, the car stands around and occupies space. Paris developed a great car-sharing system and Seoul seems to share many similarities with the system in France.
Big Leap in Korea
Yonhap reported in January that 492 cars are going to be placed in 292 places in Seoul. The usage costs 3,300 KRW for 30 minutes. Seoul’s car-sharing service is called “Socar” (쏘카). The intention is to build an addition to public transport and to make citizens choose public transport first (and then car-sharing as the second choice). Someone, who used more than 40,000 KRW per month for public transport, gets a 5% discount on the car-sharing service. And low-income households get a 10,000 won coupon each month! In Korean the Car-sharing service is called ‘승용차 공동이용 서비스’ or the Anglicism “카셰어링” and every citizen of Seoul may be able to use this service.
The Seoul city government calculated how much a private vehicle costs a year and how it would be if someone would just the car-sharing service instead: If you use your car twice a week two hours each time, you’re able to save up to 2.56 million KRW (around USD 2,300) with using the car-sharing service instead. If you use your car five times a week, then you save around 2 million KRW (USD 1,800). There’s no insurance to pay, no car to buy, in conclusion, you just pay what you really use.
Seoul’s choice of weapon
Seoul City chose Kia’s Ray, a very compact city car and a modern design, and a Hyundai Sonata as a hybrid. The Ray is a electric vehicle. However, there are no details how long the cars can be used, how many kilometers they can run and most importantly, if they can be picked up and left at any spot inside of Seoul.
The service can be used via internet or smartphone and the usage fee can be paid with a credit card. That makes it very convenient. It’s possible to make a reservation two hours in advance and the automatic response system will lead you to the nearest car.
Take a look at this map of the distribution of vehicles:
Honestly, it looks quite poor. Most areas have only one car. A day before opening of the service, I passed by Yongsan Station and Seoul Station but I couldn’t see any preparations for that. Behind the Seoul Station is a parking place with around 20 EV cars, which is another private car-sharing service (also Kia Ray). I believe that most of the people don’t even know that the service exists.
The Solution for Urban Transportation?
A lot of people believe that electric vehicles, self-driving cars and car-sharing are the solution to our traffic jams. But that’s wrong. It’s all about geometry: A car uses more space to transport a person/persons than public transport does use. Just take a look at the following comparison and you may understand how essential public transport is and that it cannot be replaced by car-sharing.