Car-sharing services are a boon to environmentally minded commuters who spurn car ownership and to cities looking for ways to reduce traffic congestion.

But in Montreal, the popularity of services such as Communauto and car2go is depriving vehicle owners who live in the busy pockets of Mile End and Milton Park of parking spots on their own streets.

"During the day, it's full, full, full," said Pierre Renzetti, who lives on St-Dominique Street in Mile End, just a stone's throw from Ubisoft's video-game studio.

"It's impossible to take my car to buy groceries and come back, because both sides of the street are full, full, full."

car2go mile end parking

Car-sharing services pay $1,320 annually per vehicle for the right to park vehicles in the same spaces allocated for residential permit holders in eight Montreal boroughs. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

car2go in Mile End

CBC/Radio-Canada's compilation and analysis of data on the booming car2go service has found that during working hours on weekdays in Mile End, car-sharing vehicles do, indeed, hog the parking spots reserved for residential permit holders.

Mile End is a major destination for commuters – not just Ubisoft employees, but others who work in the neighbourhood's converted factories. However, it doesn't have the parking infrastructure available to commuters in downtown Montreal.

MAP: Where and when car2go vehicles are parked

The colours indicate what time of day you're most likely to find car2go vehicles parked in any one zone. Click on each circle for a chart showing the average number of cars per hour that were parked in that zone over the course of five weeks.


Mobile users: tap to see the map

Downtown just steps away

The area of Milton Park dubbed the McGill ghetto is another area where shared vehicles take up a lot of the space set aside for residential parking at critical times.

There is demand for parking from university students and staff, not to mention from those working in nearby hospitals.

Perhaps more important, users of the car-sharing service aren't allowed to leave the vehicles in the Ville-Marie borough, south of Sherbrooke Street.

So drivers will park their shared vehicle in a residential spot in the McGill ghetto, between University Street and Parc Avenue, and walk to work or to shop downtown from there.

car2go car-sharing

In Milton Park, parking spots along Hutchison Street and neighbouring streets are often taken up by car-sharing vehicles, parked there by drivers who then walk downtown. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

Universal parking sticker

Car2go and Communauto pay the City of Montreal $1,320 per vehicle for a universal sticker, which allows drivers to park anywhere it's legal, including in spots zoned for residential parking.

Shared vehicles don't stay parked for long, but residents complain that once one vehicle leaves, it's quickly replaced by another.

"Just the other week, I drove by two, three times to park. Couldn't find a spot," said Michel Fréchette, another Mile End resident.

"I have to park in my backyard, but in the winter it will be hard."

auto-mobile mile end car2go

Auto-mobile cars from Communauto are also often parked on St-Dominique Street in Mile End. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

Explosive growth in car sharing

Car2go has seen an explosive growth in Montreal. The company began operating here three years ago, and today it boasts 43,000 members sharing a fleet of 460 vehicles, said general manager Jérémi Lavoie.

Car2go is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler AG, which makes the Smart cars used by car2go, as well as Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Its homegrown rival, Communauto, which began as a fleet of 80 vehicles in 1994, also has a one-way car-sharing service called Auto-mobile.

car2go old montreal

In the Ville-Marie borough, car-sharing vehicles can't park in permit zones and must be taken to designated parking spots, like this one by the Lachine Canal in Old Montreal. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

It boasts similar numbers: In three years, the number of vehicles in the Auto-mobile fleet grew from 30 to 450 in Montreal's eight participating boroughs.

Representatives of both companies say they haven't received complaints directly from residents of the high-use zones.

Car2go's Lavoie said he heard some complaints when the service was first launched, but he's had no calls from Mile End residents in the last 18 months.

"There are still some misconceptions of the benefits car2go brings to the city," Lavoie said. "There's education to be done."

Communauto also said it hasn't received complaints from Mile End residents.

"These cars move a lot. They don't stay parked for more than two hours and are taken by different people, unlike a private car that stays, generally, all day long," said company spokeswoman Brigitte Geoffroy.

Both companies invite residents to contact them if they have complaints. The car-sharing services send employees to move cars if they become a burden.

Political battlefield

Coun. Alex Norris, who represents the Plateau Mont-Royal borough where car sharing is most popular, fully supports the car-sharing concept despite the occasional problems posed by the vehicles.

"There can be issues near Metro stations and downtown," he said. "Around employment hubs, there can be complaints."

Alex Norris

Projet Montréal Coun. Alex Norris said his party would reduce the price of universal parking stickers for car-sharing vehicles and allow them to be left anywhere downtown. (Radio-Canada)

But he insists the benefits outweigh the inconvenience, saying "one vehicle can be used by a number of families."

"The era for every family to own a car is coming to end. There's no room for everyone to have a car," said Norris.

Norris's Projet Montréal has challenged Mayor Denis Coderre on his handling of the car-sharing issue, claiming he is trying to stifle its development.

The mayor recently raised the price of universal parking stickers from $1,000 to $1,320 and has imposed a requirement that both services electrify their entire fleet by 2020.

A Projet Montréal administration would repeal these measures and allow the vehicles to be parked anywhere downtown, said Norris.

Aref Salem, the member of the city's executive committee responsible for transit, said the city is trying to find a balance between car-sharing services and the needs of local residents.

Net benefit for cities

A study by the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley showed that car-sharing has helped remove thousands of cars from the five North American cities it surveyed.

Its study of 7,350 car2go members in Vancouver, Calgary, San Diego, Washington and Seattle found that, on average:

  • two to five per cent of members sold a car because of car2go.

  • seven to 10 per cent of members refrained from buying a car.

  • More than 28,000 fewer cars operated in the five cities in 2015, or 7 to 11 cars per car2go vehicle.

  • Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 2,200 to 10,000 tonnes per year, a decrease of 4 to 18 per cent per car2go household.

In Calgary, the city has come up with a number of solutions to the problem of too many parked car-sharing vehicles displacing residents' cars. There is a limit on how many car2go vehicles can be parked on any one street, and a driver who parks there anyway faces stiff fines, said Coun. André Chabot.

Municipal authorities have also created 150 "microstall parking zones" reserved especially for car2go Smart cars, at the end of certain streets and in places where a normal-sized car wouldn't fit.


Methodology:

Car2go continuously publishes real-time data on its cars' locations, used by mobile apps to help users find the nearest available vehicle.

CBC/Radio-Canada saved this data every five minutes for five weeks in July and August and analyzed the results with the help of Montreal data scientist Nicolas Kruchten. High-use zones were identified using k-means clustering, an algorithm that identifies clusters of similar observations in large data sets. These zones represent general areas and are not exact locations of parked cars.

With files from Radio-Canada's Marie-Christine Rioux