EV car-sharing programs expanding in municipalities

The Yomiuri Shimbun

An increasing number of municipalities are teaming up with car-sharing service operators to use electric vehicles while renting them to residents on weekends and holidays.

The Environment Ministry in next fiscal year will begin giving full-fledged subsidies to municipalities that have implemented a carbon-free car-sharing project advocated by the ministry, and it plans to support the construction of power-charging facilities using electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as solar power.

Promoting EVs

The Itabashi Ward Office purchased an electric vehicle in 2020 as a replacement for one of its three official vehicles for the Environment Policy Division. About 20 staff members of the division use it by making reservations for the vehicle at a car-sharing service operator’s website. The fee is paid by the ward office, and when there are no bookings, residents can also use the service.

In early September, a 35-year-old woman used the vehicle for an hour to go shopping. “It is quiet and has good acceleration,” she said.

While EVs are more environmentally friendly than gasoline-powered vehicles, they are more expensive than their gas counterparts.

The ward office believes that car sharing will allow people hesitant to purchase an EV to easily use one, and it now intends to promote the EV sharing service so more residents can drive the car and experience its performance.

“This is just an experiment we will continue until 2023, but it has been well received by residents,” a division official said. “We are thinking about extending the trial period.”

Expansion of subsidies

The Environment Ministry plans to expand subsidies to municipalities that are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by introducing the EV car-sharing program.

To receive subsidies, municipalities must partner with car-sharing service companies to introduce EVs for public use. The vehicles are used by municipalities on weekdays and are available to residents on weekends and holidays.

Electricity for charging must in principle be supplied from solar panels installed on the rooftops of municipal office buildings.

The ministry aims to reduce CO2 emissions by encouraging people to curb their use of electricity generated by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

The plan is also to make use of EVs as storage batteries, by drawing on lessons learned from disasters that cause large-scale power outages.

The ministry included ¥1 billion in the supplementary budget for the last fiscal year to subsidize the deployment of EVs and the installation of solar panels and power-charging equipment for municipalities. It hopes to secure another ¥1 billion in the next fiscal year’s budget to realize about 500 cases over the next five years.

“If more vehicles are charged using renewable energy sources, EVs will become an even more environmentally friendly form of transportation,” a ministry official said. “They will also serve as storage batteries that are indispensable during a disaster.”

Price issues

However, there are still issues that need to be addressed before such a system can spread widely.

With car sharing, a fee is incurred each time a vehicle is used, and the longer the vehicle is rented, the more it costs.

The city government of Sakai began an EV car-sharing program of its vehicles on an experimental basis in 2012, but discontinued the contract with the car-sharing service operator in 2016.

According to the city government, the cost over the four years were double those if it had purchased a gasoline-powered vehicle. In addition, the vehicles at the time took so long to recharge that there were often cases in which vehicles were not available when needed.

“If EVs take hold in society and production of them increases, their prices will fall and the number of charging facilities will increase. It will even become possible to charge them while they are parked at destinations,” said Naotsugu Mihori, a motor journalist knowledgeable about EVs. “We are in a transitional period before EVs spread widely and can reduce stress on the environment even while using EVs in combination with hybrid vehicles and gasoline-powered ones. Related efforts should be promoted.”