Open letter by Benoît Robert, Communauto’s president and founder: Montreal is headed in the wrong direction in its quest to regulate the electrification of one-way carsharing


Benoît Robert
Président-directeur général


Last Tuesday, the City of Montreal adopted its controversial regulation concerning parking for one-way carsharing vehicles. This regulation determines the modalities applicable for parking of one-way carsharing vehicles on its territory as well as the number of permits available. The conditions also include the fact that adding gas-powered or hybrid vehicles is no longer possible.
What does a City wishing to develop carsharing on its territory do? First off, it encourages the development of the carsharing offer, it puts in place conditions that will allow it to truly compete with car ownership, it values the initiative, it facilitates the synergies between the different players within the mobility market and, on top of that, it promotes the service as a socially responsible choice for its citizens.

What has the Montreal administration done since it announced wanting to put in place favorable conditions to the development of carsharing ? It has increased our fees,  rationed our development as if the expansion of the service was a threat, forced us to become all electric knowing full well that this will hurt the price and quality of the offer, and even worst, it has created a climate of insecurity for the operators and other players of the market which is down right harmful to our operations.

No offense to the head of  transportation of  the Executive Committee of the City, but Montreal was already an international carsharing reference well before the current administration  got involved  and started acting as if they themselves invented the service.

The irony is, for more than 20 years we worked very hard at getting the City to get involved in carsharing.  And now, we kind of miss the good old days when they weren’t.

Cost increase and improvisation

First step of the City since it decided to put forth its own carsharing model : the price of the parking permits will increase by 30%, going from $1000 to $1320 a year. Has there been any talk of increasing parking permits of car-owning residents to maintain to comparative advantage of carsharing? Nope.  Seems that carsharing has become the City’s cash cow and our members second-class citizens.

We went through a very clumsy transfer of responsibilities between the City and the boroughs, last spring, that caused more than a month’s delay in obtaining parking permits, therefore stopping us from adding any new vehicles. We could not have asked for a worst moment for this legal void.

And the improvisation keeps going : the City’s administration, after having announced last week that the one-way carsharing electrification project would be delayed a year, finally decided that every new vehicle added will have to be electric. Are we delaying or not?  It would be useful to know.  With this last minute turnaround (Requested by whom and why?), Communauto is penalised twice over: penalised once because we had already complied with the 15% ratio of electric vehicles required for 2016, at great cost; and penalised again in a most brutal and unpredictable way as we are being forced into all electric even if the people responsible for the policy were well aware that we had not yet finished adding the 150 hybrid vehicles announced in April.  How can we efficiently work in such an uncertain environment?

Above these difficulties, with the recently adopted regulation, it’s the development of carsharing offers that meet the needs of the clientèle that is compromised.  As of now, it is the Executive Committee that will decide, by reasoned order, the number of carsharing vehicles to which montrealers have access.  Based on what criteria?  Who knows.  Might as well say goodbye to offer and demand.  We are entering the era of planned economy.

Would anyone dare impose quotas on the acquisition of privately owned vehicles?

The choice of electric vehicles

To be clear, Communauto is not opposing the administration’s  project of promoting the electrification of the one-way carsharing component of Montreal’s global carsharing offer.  The issue lies in how things are being done.

Today’s reality is that electric vehicles cost more than gas-powered or hybrid vehicles and generate less revenues due to their limited range and the required charging time.  This needs to be taken into consideration to find the right balance.  We disagree with the all electric requirement in the current state of the technology.
Would we impose this type of requirement to vehicle owners?

Communauto has been offering one of the largest shared electric vehicle fleet in America for many years and has, on many occasions, made propositions to the City in order to work together in a constructive way to reach the City’s goal of offering its citizens a fleet a 1000 electric vehicles within 5 years without this having any perverse effects.

Unfortunately, the people in power have opted for a dogmatic approach, aiming for all electric at a rate that will only decrease the service’s attractiveness.

Why this intransigeance ?  Why this wilful blindness to the facts?  Who is benefiting from this?

After more than 20 years of implication in promoting carsharing here but also around the world, the truth is that I’m the first who would like to have an answer to these questions.  However, despite all my years of experience, I can only admit that I no longer understand anything of my own city’s logic.

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