Susan Shaheen heads the Innovative Mobility Program at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has been researching transit’s role in the "collaborative consumption" movement for the past two decades. The phenomenon encapsulates the rapid expansion of swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting that has emerged in recent years — especially in the online realm.
"I definitely sense some sort of cultural shift away from ownership," she says, noting that a confluence of technology, environment and economy have precipitated a spike in recent years.
The summer of 2008 — when oil and gas prices reached record highs — was a turning point. A similar rise in gas prices, which averaged 125.84 cents a litre Thursday in Canada, combined with shaky consumer confidence is again driving more consumers toward shared transport, she said.
"We definitely tend to see, anecdotally, changes in uptake for car sharing and shared modes when we see gas prices rising, but I think another factor in addition to that is economic decline."
There are 17 car-sharing networks in several Canadian cities, largely dominated by the Boston-based car sharing pioneer Zipcar. Smaller local competitors also exist across the country, mainly co-ops aimed at urbanite commuters.
Bike sharing programs are still more rare but are rapidly proliferating. In May, Toronto became the latest Canadian city to house Montreal-based Bixi’s bike sharing network. There are seven programs in North America.