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Maven moves into Toronto’s crowded car sharing market

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A new car sharing company is entering the teeming Toronto market on Tuesday, even as a competitor is threatening to drop out.

Maven, a General Motors company already operating in the U.S. and Kitchener-Waterloo, will join the likes of Car2Go, ZipCar and Enterprise CarShare in Toronto.

Maven and its competitors allow drivers to borrow a vehicle for a few hours at a time.

“(Car sharing) really was created as an alternative to car ownership, because cars largely sit unused 98 per cent of the time when they’re owned in a private capacity — so they’re not in a fleet setting where they could get higher usage rates,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the University of California — Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Centre.

Ken Greenberg, former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto and author of Walking Home, called car sharing “a logical and inevitable step in the evolution from where we are now to where we have to get to.”

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“As we move away from the fixation with individuals owning vehicles, we’re certainly in my view, for many people, moving away from the idea that your personal identity is tied up with the kind of car you drive, notwithstanding what the auto makers would have us believe,” Greenberg said. “This is a very liberating thing.”

Maven will kick off with about 10 models, 50 cars and designated parking spaces in 14 neighbourhoods like Liberty Village, Leslieville and the Financial District. Maven cars can be used for as low as $9 an hour.

Just as Maven is entering the market, Car2Go — a car-sharing service with 75,000 members in Toronto — may be on its way out.

The company’s executives openly considered leaving the Toronto market after city council voted last week to further study a proposal that would have sold car-sharing services 2,000 parking permits in the city, while exempting them from three-hour street limits.

“After five and a half years of council inaction . . . what other choice are we left with but to explore all of our options?” asked Michael Silverstein, a spokesperson for Car2Go.

Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) said he “reluctantly” referred the motion back to staff but remains supportive of the proposal.

“I am supportive of the move but there was confusion on the floor of council about the impacts and there were several councillors planning to propose changes that would have sunk the pilot,” said Layton, who added that he’s a member of two different car-sharing services.

Layton said he would be surprised if there is any major change with Car2Go before the city’s final decision in the spring.

“I believe as (car sharing) becomes more popular, councillors will be quicker to respond to the changing realities of personal vehicle transportation choices,” Layton said.

Greenberg said it was “remiss” to not give space to Car2Go and other companies.

He added a car-sharing company in the Netherlands sets spaces aside for the vehicles, “which gives people a big incentive to use their service as opposed to driving their own cars. I think it does make sense, I think we should be doing it.”

When asked if Maven shares concerns about a lack of parking, its CEO Julia Steyn said in an email that: “the Maven business model is focused on roundtrip, station-based car-sharing. We have no plans to announce regarding a free-floating model for car-sharing.”

Christopher Korman describes himself as an “active” Car2Go user who enjoys the convenience of the service.

“In the last year or two, when they were trying to negotiate with the city to get on-street parking, certainly there’s a lot of areas where finding an available lot sometimes can be a bit of a challenge,” Korman said. “And certainly just being able to drop it on the street is certainly very convenient.”

Korman says he drops off Car2Go vehicles in the Green P lots, “and quite often if I’m trying to return a vehicle there, the lot is entirely full.”

But even if Car2Go leaves, there are still a variety of options. Some in the industry think there’s enough space for everyone to thrive.

“A combination of car sharing, ridesharing and public transportation can provide an affordable and convenient alternative to individual car ownership,” said Xavier Van Chau, a spokesperson for Uber.

George Kozyrakis, a manager at Enterprise CarShare, agrees.

“Our members can be members of multiple services,” he said. “It’s a big pie.”

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