The EVS18 Papers: Kyoto's Public Car Project
Kyoto, Japan is famous for many things: it's beautiful collection of ancient temples, a devastating earthquake and a global warming treaty, which bears its name. And within the EV community, it is also etching a name for itself by pioneering a public car-share program that launched in December, 2000.
At EVS18 in Berlin last Fall, Ryuichi Kitamura, Yoshihiro Fujimori, Kunihiko Masunaga, and Ryo Umeki presented their paper on the state of the Kyoto Public Car Project. What follows is a brief summary of their findings.
While car share program are gaining in popularity in Europe and slowly being embraced in North America, the Kyoto project is the first public car share project in Japan. During its just over one year of operation, it has attracted several hundred members who include homemakers, students and business people.
The project started with 19 two-passenger electric vehicles; the Toyota ecom and the Nissan Hypermini (pictured above). These are distributed among six stations scattered around the city center including the Chamber of Commerce, the ASTEM industrial park, the Miyako Messe and Ginkakuji Temple, as well as the train station and Kyoto Hotel. Each station is equipped with inductive chargers from which both types of vehicles can be charged.
Members of the program are issued "smart" (IC) identification cards which are used to open the vehicle doors and start the motor. Each EV is equipped with a GPS system for fleet management. It also alerts the driver when they are leaving the system service area. Besides the GPS locator, each car has a traffic management system that provide traffic alerts and directions.
NEDO or the New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization, which sponsors the project, leases the cars from the Toyota and Nissan, has three objectives for the Public Car Project. The first is to test the feasibility of such a system including comparing actual program performance with computer simulations. They also want to test the merit of the concept on a general population and third, they want to see if car sharing can work in Japan.
After more than a year of operation, it appears the project is achieving most of its goals. A survey of program participants indicated that 81% where viewed their involvement in the program as positive. Two-thirds said they were "satisfied" and one-third felt they had reduced their personal use of a gasoline-powered vehicle.
When the program first started 29 vehicles a day where checked out on average in December, 2000. This increased to 33 in January, 38 in February and 40 in March. During this four month period, 312 members made some 8,279 reservation requests of which 4,087 were confirmed.
The Kyoto Public Car Project discovered that about 50% of the reservations being made during this test period weren't be confirmed for two main reasons. About 40% were cancelled due to members inputting wrong data into the online reservation system and 60% because either cars or return parking spaces were not available.
The entire reservation and fleet management system is computer controlled. Members make reservations a minimum of 4 hours in advance using either an Internet-connected PC or a Internet-enabled cellular telephone. They must indicate how far they plan to drive the vehicle and for how long, as well as where they plan to leave it. If a car is available but the system shows there are no charging stations available at the destination, the system rejects the order. The object is to keep vehicles from being bunched up at one or two locations.
Because of cost constraints, the project does not have the human resources to move vehicles around the system. Only three full-time employees oversee the project, along with a handful of part-time workers who patrol the EV stations, cleaning cars, chargers and reservation terminals.
Because the system is so closely monitored by computers, project managers have been able to keep close tabs on vehicle usage. They found during the study period that the cars are used for recreation, shopping, running personal errands and work related tasks, though little for commuting. Most car share activity occurs between 9:30am and 1:00pm with 37% keeping the car 2 hours, 37% keeping it for just an hour and 15% keeping it three hours or more. A small number of people used the cars nearly every day, while most used it anywhere from once a week to once a month. 22.3% never used the cars.
In September, the program was opened up to people outside of Kyoto, including tourists. The project also began charging for hourly EV usage, pricing it between the cost of a bus fare and taxi. As with all such programs, in order to continue to function, they must become self-sufficient and this is the goal of the Kyoto project, as well. NEDO is looking to make even further reductions in personnel costs, but it admits it will still have to have government help to continue to afford to leave the more expensive electric cars.
Operationally, the cars have experienced little mechanical trouble or operational problems. There were a small number of difficulties with the automated reservation and IC card system, with a handful of people not able to gain access to the cars or start them.
What did they think of the two-seat EVs? Here they were almost evenly split between those who liked the vehicles and those who would have preferred something a little bigger.
While the project aims to be self-supporting after its third year, challenges remain, but NEDO now has a far better idea of what they are then when it launched the Kyoto Public Car Project more than a year ago.
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