Car sharing: The next big thing in traffic-clogged Mexico City?

Carrot is the country's first car share initiative with 8,500 members in Mexico City. Some studies show the introduction of shared cars will reduce the overall number of drivers on the road.

By , Correspondent

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    Car traffic on the streets of Veracruz, Mexico, November 2011. Diego Solorzano, a young entrepreneur, launched the country's first car share initiative last June as an alternative to traffic-clogged Mexico City, something 'in between public transport and private transport,' he says.
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Residents of this traffic-clogged capital warmed quickly to the city’s bike-share program, Ecobici. Now a new effort called Carrot wants people to share cars, as well.

Mexico City public transportation has improved enormously over the past decade, with the addition of bus rapid transit, a new metro line, bike lanes, and Ecobici. But the city sprawls in every direction, and public transport isn’t always close or convenient. Many who can afford it own a car (or two).

Diego Solorzano, a young entrepreneur, launched Carrot last June as an alternative, something “in between public transport and private transport,” he says.

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Although it may sound counterintuitive, putting shared cars on the road keeps greater numbers of private cars off of it, Mr. Solorzano says.

Every shared car takes 15 autos out of traffic, according to 2009 research in North American cities by Frost & Sullivan, a global business consulting firm. Drivers who belong to car-share programs drive about 30 percent less than when they owned a personal vehicle. 

Inspired by Zip Car and similar projects in Europe, Carrot is the first car-share enterprise in Mexico. From just three cars, the program has grown to 40 vehicles – with the Nissan March and Leaf models and the Xtrail SUVs, being the most energy efficient vehicles sold in Mexico – and has signed up 8,500 members.

Each Carrot car – the company name is a play on the Mexican word for car, carro – sports a bright orange carrot-shaped logo. An online map lets users reserve them in advance at a particular location.

The company aims to take “collaborative consumption” to the next level, says Fernando Lelo de Larrea, managing partner of Venture Partners, the venture capital firm that helped Carrot get off the ground.

Carrot targets young professionals, especially those already enrolled in Ecobici, which has 70,000 card-holders. The idea is that the opportunity to share a vehicle will prevent people from purchasing one, or prevent families from purchasing a second. A Carrot car is meant to be used three or four times a month, “an option that is top of mind,” Mr. Lelo de Larrea says, but that isn’t meant for daily use.

The cost of Carrot, competitive with higher-end taxi services, necessarily targets the middle class as it prices out low wage earners. Membership costs about $24 every three months, and the car costs about $5 an hour. Insurance and gas are included with the membership.

Auto theft is a major problem in Mexico City but not for Carrot. The technology it employs only lets a car start if it is activated by a member’s card, and the company has a system to track all its cars, similar to LoJack.

“People said, ‘It’s not going to work in Mexico,’” Lelo de Larrea says. “The truth is that it’s been exactly the opposite. We’ve had zero cases of vandalism. People take care of them.”

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