"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -


The Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) is a highly successful non-profit membership-owned car-sharing co-operative, whose 1,020 members share 53 vehicles.


Car sharing has its origins in Switzerland and Germany in the late 1980s, and has since spread to several other European countries, North America and Singapore. Vancouver is a fast-growing, fast-moving city on Canada’s western coast, and Vancouver’s Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) was founded in 1997 as a small non-profit co-operative. It now has over 1000 members who share 50 vehicles, which are parked at various locations throughout the city, and also in six other cities in the province of British Columbia.

Aims and Objectives

CAN’s goal is to reduce the impact of automobiles on urban ecosystems by offering car-sharing as an alternative to individual car ownership, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving local air quality and green space viability, and indirectly promoting pedestrian, bicycle and transit-friendly urban design. It secondary goal is to ensure that car-sharing is more affordable than owning a personal vehicle, and that it is accessible to people who cannot or choose not to own a personal vehicle.


CAN’s main activity involves the smooth operation of the co-operative. New members go through an hour-long orientation process, after which they fill in an application form and purchase a life-time share in the co-operative for $500, which is fully refundable. A partner/family member or friend living in the same house can have associate membership for $250. As a member-owner, you then have a grace period during which you figure out which of CAN’s three usage plans will suit you best (see Finance). When you want to use a car, you can book a vehicle on-line, or call the office to book the time and location. You are given a lock-box key when you join which gives you access to the cars’ keys. The cars are almost always available - out of a 1,500 typical bookings that CAN’s staff make each month, there are only 10-30 occasions when a vehicle is not available immediately. After your trip, you return the vehicle to its location, return the keys to the lockbox, and log your time and distance with the office. If you get a parking ticket, or get towed, that’s your responsibility. CAN’s members have a mutual sharing arrangement with the Victoria Car Share Co-operative and with the Nelson and Area Car Sharing Co-operative, enabling members to make use of each other’s services when they go travelling to areas where there are no CAN cars.

CAN also offers a consultancy service to groups which want to start a similar organization, once a group has ten people who are interested in sharing a car, and has done a market survey which indicates the potential to attract 50 members within two years.


CAN is a not-for-profit co-operative. It is owned by its members, who own or lease the vehicles, and who control the activities and direction of the co-op through a democratically elected board of directors. CAN has formal partnerships with VanCity Capital Corporation, the City of Vancouver (which allows the co-op vehicles to be parked in any permit zone in the city), and with a car rental company which provides discounts for members who want to rent a car for longer trips or vacations, or who want a larger, cargo vehicle.


CAN offers three user plans to suit its members’ needs:

  • a Higher Usage Plan, for those driving over 3,000 km/year ($35 monthly admin fee, $1.75 per hour and 17 cents/km);
  • a Moderate Usage Plan for those driving less than 3,000 km/yr. ($12.50 monthly admin fee, $1.75 per hour and 27 cents/km);
  • and a Lower Usage Plan for those driving less than 1,000 km/yr. ($60 yearly admin fee, $1.75 per hour and 32 cents/km).

These prices include all other vehicle usage costs, such as insurance, gas, oil, servicing, repairs, or BCAA membership. The Co-op’s shares pay no dividends, and no interest. When CAN was getting started, it received a loan for vehicle purchases from VanCity Savings, a member-owned credit union which is a leading member of BC’s financial community. Since then, the operating costs have been covered by a combination of the members’ shares and the user fees. 20 of CAN’s vehicles are owned by the co-op, and 33 are leased.


CAN is debt free, and financially self-sustaining. In 2001, CAN commissioned an independent Social and Environmental Report, during which a survey was distributed to all CAN’s members, which generated a 55% response rate. The survey showed that 95% of CAN’s members were satisfied or very satisfied with CAN’s service, that 99% of the members would recommend CAN to others, and that 94% thought CAN was beneficial for the environment. The survey also showed that CAN’s members drive an average of 1400 km/yr., releasing 10 to 36 times less greenhouse gases than someone who drives 6,000 – 24,000 km/yr (personal vehicle estimates), and that 171 members are choosing not to buy or lease a car because CAN exists.


In addition to continued expansion, CAN’s goals for the future include creating a ‘Station Car’ system that will enable cars to be stationed at SkyTrain LRT stations in partnership with Vancouver’s Light Rapid Transit system; adding gas/electric hybrid vehicles to the fleet; developing a special fund for people who can’t afford the initial $500 share purchase; establishing a partnership program with job clubs and employment insurance offices around Vancouver; and offering members a discount on their monthly invoice in return for doing CAN outreach work in areas outside Vancouver. In August 2002, CAN was chosen as one of three finalists to qualify for a $1million award program run by VanCity Savings, Vancouver’s largest credit union. If CAN wins, by a popular vote among VanCity’s 282,000 members in October 2002, it will use the award to purchase 30 electric hybrid cars, and to develop a station car program for transit-poor areas.

As well as its record of solid financial management and strong member support, CAN’s success can be credited to its being an excellent answer to the problem of high density traffic, with all its social and environmental costs; the high density of traffic on Vancouver’s streets; and the desirability of having access to a car without all the hassles of owning and storing one. With its accumulated experience, CAN is prepared for all the typical crises that occur, and has worked out policies to complement even the most bizarre circumstances that can arise.

Car Sharing in Europe

Car sharing began in Switzerland in 1987, and in Berlin in 1988. It has since spread to Austria, Italy, France, Holland, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and has become very sophisticated, using advanced special purpose software and offering integrated transport packages. In 1997, for instance, Switzerland’s car sharing groups merged to form Mobility Car Sharing, a professionally-run country-wide scheme with 48,200 customers who share 1,650 vehicles in 390 communities. Mobility’s Zuger Pass Plus is a highly popular regional season ticket in credit card format which offers members discounted access to car-sharing, public transit, the Swiss railways, car rental, taxi, bicycle, and various non-transport related services. Most European car share groups are run as businesses, not co-operatives.

Car Sharing in North America

In North America, there are car share groups in over 30 cities, most of which have started since 2000. Boston’s Zipcar has 1875 members who share 75 vehicles; Montreal’s Communauto has 1600 members who share 90 vehicles; San Francisco’s City CarShare, which was launched in March 2001, has 1,300 members who share 36 vehicles, including several electrics. Carsharing has also taken off in Singapore, where the Japanese company Honda has launched an Intelligent Community Vehicle System. During its trial period, 50 members are sharing access to a fleet of 15 Civic hybrid gas/electric cars.

Car Sharing in the UK

Car sharing is just starting to take off in the UK, and there are small car share groups in Bath (28 members), Bristol (51 members), Lewes (18 members), Lewisham (started August 2002), BedZed Sutton (20 members), Sutton & Southwark (50 members), Oxford (60 members), Leicester (3 clubs, 36 members), Cranfield University (60 members), Swansea (4 cars), Leeds (16 members), Manchester (8 members), Manchester Airport employees (60 members), and Edinburgh (160 members). There are also new groups developing in 18 other communities.

Car-Sharing Resources:

For further information contact :

Tracey Axelsson, Executive Director,
Co-operative Auto Network,
205-470 Granville St,
Vancouver, BC, V6C 1V5
Tel: 604-685-1393

Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, Victoria, B.C., Canada