Car sharing in the city

comautoThis year marks the 15th anniversary of Montreal-based car share service Communauto. Being the oldest network of its kind in North America, Communauto has been able to establish itself as a realistic alternative to car ownership in Montreal. Boasting a membership of over 20,000 users with a fleet of 830 vehicles, Communauto Public Relations Director Marco Viviani says their mandate is to make car sharing a viable option for all.

Car sharing report


  1. I guess 15 years is long enough to develop one of the most byzantine pricing systems of any carsharing programme I’ve ever seen. And the one tier Communauto offers that doesn’t feature a staggering $500 start-up fee is barely competitive with traditional car rental chains (for most purposes).

    I guess it’s nice for monied folks – people with capital, but Communauto has failed in their stated mandate for those without a lot of spare change.

  2. My wife used the Communauto until inheriting her parents car, and it was excellent, as long as you didn’t need to request a car on the day you needed it!

    $500 isn’t exactly a large amount of money, and you get it back if you leave.

    Our main critique is that Communauto isn’t as organized as they could be in making it straight forward and easy to use.

    On the plus side, not everyone needs a car fulltime, and they definitely don’t needs TWO cars full time.

    Since the birth of Communauto, many commercial services like it have been started in the US, but it’s not at all clear that Communauto has learned anything from the startups, Communauto has a not-invented-here/we-know-best attitude that can be perplexing at best and stupid at it’s most annoying at other times.

    And then there is the “I’m here for my car and the other person is late returning it” problem. Anything that depends on the good will and reliability of other people to function properly, well, you take your chances’

    Also, if you don’t want every trip you make GPS-tracked by a higher authority, don’t get communauto!

  3. Why don’t they use domestic cars??? Why do they feel the need to import Toyota Yarises from Asia (the shipping of these cars produces a tonne of emissions). Instead they could be greener if they bought say Chevrolet Cobalts or Ford Focuses. And they would be supporting the North American economy!

  4. Um, they don’t use north-american cars because cars like the cobalt/focus are komplete krap kars, while toyota has an innovative concept called “long-term reliability,” a concept NOT embraced by either GM or Ford, ever.

  5. Agreed Sid. GM and Ford do not have the best reputation for long-term reliability.

    I’m not quite sure what a “domestic car” would be in a Canadian context. Would it be a car assembled at a branch plant in Ontario owned by a foreign company? Toyota has a couple of plants that operate like this. So cars produced there would be considered “domestic” under that definition.

  6. ^Complete crap cars?? Based on what exactly? Have you driven one? And where do you get your long-term reliability claim from? What is this the 1980s? Take a look at this chart (from JD POWER). The most reliable brand is Buick. The least reliable? Suzuki, followed by VW. The least reliable American brands: HUMMER, Pontiac and Saturn are being phased out.

    While you may look at buying a car the same way as you do buying a refrigerator, some of us actually care how the car drives. A cheapo Yaris sedan is no Ford Focus.

  7. Matthew, a Toyota built in Ontario is only half-domestic. Most of the parts, and most of the revenues return to Japan. However, in the case of the Toyota Yaris, it is produced overseas. So it is not domestic at all. It is preferable to buy North American-made cars from the big 3 when possible. Although a Japanese car made in North America is preferable to one made in Japan, however.

  8. As opposed to Bixi, one of whose goals is to create and stimulate made-in Quebec businesses, Communauto has no such aims. Presumably their choice of vehicle is related to what offers them the most value for money over the relatively short communauto service life of the vehicle (purchase price – resale price value, plus operating expenses for the one or two years that it is in service).

    Communauto is not in the business of stimulating this or that sector of the economy, nor are they competing directly with traditional car rental companies. Find me one which will rent you a car for two hours without filling in any paper work and without requiring a special trip to their location.

    They certainly could take better advantage of technology to improve some of their services such as real-time vehicle data and more flexible rental periods, but relative to the American companies I prefer their low-cost, low overhead approach.

  9. Mr. Robertson, in a globalised economy, like the americans wanted and got, if you don’t have the best product or the best quality/price ratio, it won’t sell. That’s it. To buy purely because it’s made in North America is ludicrous. When you buy a car, which is not a toy, it’s a big expense, you look for use, price, reliability, resell value, fuel economy, ergonomics AND appeal. Then you look at where it’s made.

    You have to view this as Communauto is car rental agency that doesn’t return their cars after one year… they need to keep it longer. I doubt they have under cost prices that big rental companies have to make it profitable to keep the car a year only.

    Communauto members demand a bit more, they want small cars that will be reliable no matter what nature thows at them AND get good gas mileage in the city where they will be used the most. For that, you need japanese. 3-4 years down the road, when you want to sell your car, it had better not be a domestic, you wont get your money back.

    Comparing small cars, japanese keep beating americans in my book and yes I drove and tested them. I’m a big GM fan (I had caddies and chevies) and unless it’s a big car and mileage is of no importance, I’ll buy japanese or even korean before american.

    Years ago, when owning a car was out of my reach, I checked Communauto but they only had small cars. Most of the times I needed a car back then was to go at Ikea or stores with big boxes to bring back… and for that, a compact car was of no use. It was cheaper to have it delivered.

  10. Dude, yes Americans wanted and got a globalized economy. But it only works if it goes both ways. American cars are under extremely heavy quotas in Japan, while virtually no limits are imposed on Japanese cars. That’s not exactly pure free trade.

    Now, we exactly is buying a North American car, because you want a North American car ludicrous? Am I not allowed to dismiss foreign makes outright the same way so many people don’t even consider buying American? I never said that I look for a toy when buying a car, but I definitely want something that’s enjoyable to drive. A Toyota will not cut it. Now there are plenty of extremely good North American cars to choose from. There’s pretty well something decent for every taste. It is a common myth that the Big 3 suffer from poor gas mileage. They really don’t. I have a 2001 Chevy Malibu and it rarely averages below 35mpg. That is quite solid for a car that age (which has had no mechanical problems whatsoever).

    However, buying a car should not be looked at as an expense, but as the acquisition of an asset which depreciates over time. I will concede that resell values are an issue, but they will improve with time as the products improve. Over the next 5 years there will be some pretty exciting smaller cars coming out of Detroit: The Chevrolet Volt, the world’s first plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Cruze small car, a new Buick Regal, a new Ford Focus, etc. However, at the moment, the Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus hold their own in this segment. Both are good cars, and both are built in North America.

    The main problem at the moment is overcoming the perception gap.

    Communauto is not a bad idea, per se, but if they want to be more beneficial to the North American economy and to the environment, they should own a North American fleet. Chevys and Fords are very reliable (much more so than Nissans and Mazdas for instance). Fuel economy is about the same.

  11. $500 isn’t exactly a large amount of money…

    A big, whopping LOL at ^this statement made above. Wow.

    Otherwise, I agree/have experienced most of what that poster said about Communauto’s frustrating (even deceptive?) complexity and poor organization.

    Many other N. American & European car-shares have managed to simplify their programs over the years (making your business user-friendly doesn’t seem like a totally crazy way to operate). But Communauto has resisted this for some reason?

    I looked into Communauto 4 or 5 years ago, and have preferred to rent from traditional company a couple dozen time since then. This should tell you that something’s wrong with how Communauto works: I’m the ideal usage demographic for the car-sharing concept, and I choose not to in Montreal. Not that I find Communauto affordable, but I’m even willing to pay Thrifty (or whoever) a little extra to not have to deal with Communauto’s rigmarole.

    And since – as far as I can tell – they’re the only car-share game in town, we can deduce that it’s not such a popular idea here after all. i wouldn’t mind Communauto getting some competition, but there’s apparently no market. Too bad.

  12. Before quoting gas mileage, the ultimate source is found here.
    Never trust any info given here in Canada. Trasnport Canada issues the mileage info given what the car companies tell them. The new EPA fuel testing methods are applied and better reflect the normal every day driving conditions.

    And in 2009 models, the Yaris and Corrolla fare better than both the Cobalt or Focus.

    Having driven 2000 miles in a Focus (in 5 days) I can say it is quite comfortable and not such a bad car. But as soon as you go over 65 mph, the gas is pouring fast out of the tank. It gets to be more time saving to go slower since you wont have to fill so often. Every 5mph increase in speed meant 40-45 miles per tank less (430 average miles per tank at 65mph). Needless to say I took my time.

    As for the Cobalt, I believe the rear view is awful and going in reverse while parking is quite hazardous. Seating is for me too low. These were the deal breakers since I had a good deal lined up to buy a used Cobalt on the cheap.

    Big 3 arent as big as they were and the products tehy are about to deliver may compete with current Japanese products now, but who knows what they’ll come up with too?
    Fiat will hopefully improve Chrysler and the models they have. They always had some difficulty with small cars.

    3 of my last 5 cars were Americans and I loved them all, except for my old LeBaron wich was a P.O.S.
    Now I bought a new Korean because no matter how you phrase it, it’s still expensive to own a car.

  13. Me and my girlfriend live quite happily without a car. I would, however like the ability to grab a car for a few hours every couple of weeks for grocery shopping, trips to Ikea etc. I have twice looked through Communauto’s website and both times threw up my hands and gave up trying to understand their pricing.

    They also don’t let you into the website before you sign up. I would like to see when exactly cars are available in my neighborhood before forking over $500.00.

  14. Is it really so hard to find their rate structure on their web-site?

    Most “normal” car-free people would choose the $37/year annual rate. That means that there is an hourly rate of 1.60-2.12 depending on the time period, plus a km rate of 0.34/km. Rent a car for an hour and drive 10 km and you pay $5.

    As for not finding the car that you reserved available, that happens extremely rarely because the penalties for not returning a car on time are very severe!

  15. Hi All,

    Everyone’s raining on Communauto… I use the service and am really satisfied with it. I am not “monied folks” – that deposit was not easy but I can’t afford a car which is exactly why I have Communauto. I have a 9-month old baby now so sometimes having that 2 or 3 hour access is really helpful. It’s true that for multiple day use and long distances, rental car companies can be competitive and even better priced. The trick is to take out your calculator and see which option makes most sense. But for all the other uses for a few hours, a rental doesn’t even come close in pricing and the paperwork involved is too much for a simple use. There was a time back only 3 years ago when Enterprise would rent non-air-conditioned cars in the summer for about $60 for a weekend. At that time, I also refused to get Communauto since I felt rentals were cheaper. But now Enterprise has purchased National (who owned Alamo) and all of a sudden there is no longer reason for price wars. I tried to rent a car with Enterprise for the weekend this summer and the best “deal” I could get was $150. So that was that, I got Communauto and the trip up North that we planned cost us a total $100 including gas.

    Also, yesteray at 8am, I looked to see if there was a car available at the last minute, found an option and walked over and got the car… pretty easy stuff.

  16. I am all for communauto, anything that keeps fewer cars in the city is a good thing.

    Seriously folks, $500 really isn’t much money, compared to buying a new or used car, then adding the fuel, the insurance, the snow tires, repairs, etc, etc, etc. which all add up rapidly.

    And I am glad they don’t use detroit cars, which despite the hardy belief of some, really will never compare to the kaizan approach to quality of the japanese carmakers. I’ve had japanese, european, american, canadian, and mexican built cars, and I’d prefer the japanese anyday of the week. Using the smallest toyota is pure common sense. While ford is trying, both gm and chrysler have never made a quality small car.

    The combo of communauto, bus, bike (possibly with trailer), and good-for-you walking, and you’ll rarely need to buy a car unless you travel outside the city a lot.

  17. I’m a Communauto subscriber, I love the service. Without it I’d probably have to own a car for those times when walking/cycling/public transit doesn’t do the trick.

    However, I agree that they could do a much better job at making the pricing simpler and easier to understand for new users.

    I was also reluctant to subscribe at first because I couldn’t check car availability in real-time as a non-subscriber. This left me guessing how much usage the station near my house was getting. They should open Reservauto to non-subscribers so they could get a taste of availability in a given area.

    I hope that one day they’ll equip the cars with on-board computers so we can do away with filling the little papers.


  18. I’m considering weighing whether to join Communauto and I’m stressed because I don’t have much time. I want to see where the places are located and can’t even find one. There’s supposed to be one near my house: somewhere around Alma and Beaubien. No such place exists, as far as I can tell.

  19. if gas costs are a problem and we are all trying to save, why don’t they use a service like

    car rental locations are increasing their fees continuously and having as another option is good news to me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *