Car sharing is a broad term that is applied in different ways around the world. In some places, this activity involves two or more people traveling in the same vehicle and splitting the transportation costs. Other applications of the term include situations where a vehicle is rented for short-term use, usually by the hour, as well as situations where groups of people establish private clubs or cooperatives to arrange for more affordable transportation. In all its incarnations, the ultimate goal of car sharing is to provide affordable transportation when and as needed.
In the United Kingdom, car sharing takes on the form of what is known in the United States as carpooling or ride sharing. Essentially, this type of sharing involves two or more people riding together to a common destination, while sharing the costs associated with the travel. Usually one of the parties owns the vehicle and provides the means of transportation for the passenger or passengers. In return, the passengers help to pay for a portion of the cost of fuel or provide some other form of remuneration to the owner and driver of the vehicle.
Car sharing systems can also involve renting a vehicle for short-term use and sharing the cost of the rental. This application is common when two families choose to vacation together. Rather than renting two different vehicles, the families decide to rent one vehicle jointly, and split the cost of the rental, fuel, and any other expenses associated with the use of the rented vehicle. As a result, both families have the transportation they need, but enjoy that transportation at a reduced cost to each family.
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Along with carpools and car rentals, car sharing can involve establishing joint car ownership, with all the owners working out a schedule that allows each one to make use of the vehicle on some sort of rotating basis. For example, if two people choose to purchase a car together, they may determine that one of them will have use of the car Monday through Wednesday, while the other individual will utilize the car Thursday through Saturday. This form of car sharing can be very rigid with a well-planned schedule, or be structured in a more casual fashion, depending on the wishes of the two parties involved.
Because the term can be used to refer to several different types of arrangements, it is important to qualify what is meant when someone mentions the possibility of car sharing. Doing so will help to prevent miscommunication about the nature of the car sharing system and thus minimize the chances of friction between participants or frustration on the part of the organizers from occurring.