April 28, 2016


'Community Car Sharing' Supports the Bond of Mutual Aid

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Disaster Prevention / Reduction Disaster Reconstruction Newsletter Renewable Energy Transportation / Mobility 

JFS Newsletter No.164 (April 2016)

Even before the disaster, Japan's Tohoku (northeastern) region had many areas where public transport was not fully developed, making cars a necessity of life. But on March 11, 2011, the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami slammed the region. The tsunami took many lives, and also destroyed houses, buildings, and property. For many, the loss of a car also meant the loss of an important means of mobility.

Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture, the focus of this article, was no exception; approximately 60,000 cars were swept away there. After the earthquake, even if people wanted to obtain a new car, many encountered difficulties in doing so due to a lack of parking at temporary housing, a shortage of cars, and economic and other reasons.

Takehiko Yoshizawa, who went to the afflicted areas immediately after the earthquake and carried out various relief activities, received a suggestion from a person who had carried out relief activities after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (1995) that it was worth considering collecting cars and starting a car-sharing project at temporary housing facilities. With that advice, Yoshizawa and his colleagues established a registered society named the Japan Car Sharing Association, invited donations in the form of cars, and started a car-sharing project at temporary housing in Ishinomaki.

This project created opportunities to have conversations and encourage cooperation among residents. This led to support from and connections with governments, students, companies, and other people and organizations, and the launch of various projects to revitalize the afflicted areas. This article introduces the community car-sharing program that expanded out from the earthquake-stricken area of Ishinomaki.

What is Community Car Sharing?

Community car sharing is a program operated by community residents. Through such a program, cars that were donated by companies, organizations, or individuals, are provided for free to people living in temporary communities who wish to start sharing cars. After a trial operation of approximately one month the full-fledged operation began, with detailed rules on car use, car maintenance costs, management of keys, cost sharing, and other things settled through discussion among users in each community.

In 2012, to provide support to this community car-sharing program, the city government of Ishinomaki established the Car Sharing Community Support Center and entrusted the Japan Car Sharing Association with its operations. Staff members, who were originally users, provide support to new users based on their own experiences.

The Support Center provides support to afflicted residents, including introduction to the system, the development of rules, creating local organizations, and solving operational problems.

Community Car Sharing Encourages Cooperation in a Community

The car-sharing program brought about cooperation and built relationships among those in afflicted areas in various ways. There were many problems in temporary dwellings, where people started living just in order to cope with the crisis, such as the lack of personal connections, the lack of communication among residents, and garbage scattered on the premises. Even in such an environment, meetings on car sharing created opportunities for residents in temporary dwellings to have conversations. Exchanges started up and expanded, such as tea parties, clean-up activities on the premises, and residents travelling together in shared cars.

For instance, one of the residents started providing support to elderly women in the community who had to get to the hospital every day by taxi; this kind of mutual help between residents is one example of the ripple effects born here. This activity of giving rides prompted the establishment of a system of mobility support by volunteer drivers, providing opportunities for those who cannot drive but need a means of transportation to participate in the car-sharing program.

The vehicles used in the car-sharing program are serviced twice a year, in spring and autumn, by students of Ishinomaki Senshu University, one of the local universities. Tires, oil, and service parts used for this "Student Maintenance Project" are donated in-kind by many companies.

This car-sharing program is in operation thanks to the goodwill and cooperation of various people and organizations, such as companies cooperating in building the system and providing disaster kits and baby goods to be stored in vehicles, a university taking on the required accounting work, operation improvement projects, and a total design project (creating a logo and website design) for the Japan Car Sharing Association as student projects in classes.

Environment and Disaster Prevention Benefits

In 2012, an electric vehicle (EV) test drive was conducted in an exchange event for program users held in a temporary home community called Mangoku-ura Danchi (housing complex), thanks to the cooperation of a car dealer. This event led to the start of an EV car-sharing program. In August 2013, the program was launched with six EVs, which were leased by Mitsubishi Motor Corporation free of charge, and a charging station, which was established in Mangoku-ura Danchi using the budget of the Support Center.

When fully charged, one EV can provide about a one-day supply of electric power to a household, if equipped with an optional power supply unit. Therefore, in order to purchase power supply units, five neighborhood associations taking part in the car-sharing program joined hands in fundraising utilizing a cloud-funding scheme, and succeeded in raising enough money to buy two units. In disaster drills in temporary housing communities, neighborhood association members boiled water with an electric kettle using power supplied from an EV to make cups of coffee for drill participants and to cook "alpha rice," a form of processed quick-cooking rice for emergency use, demonstrating how helpful an EV could be in the event of a disaster.

The association is now considering utilizing old or disabled gasoline vehicles by converting them into fuel-efficient electric vehicles. Ishinomaki Senshu University is taking the initiative in the preparation of this project.

In 2014, the Ishinomaki Eco EV Car Sharing Exploratory Committee was launched to establish an environment-friendly EV car program utilizing EVs that will be charged using renewable energy. In this eco EV car-sharing program, solar panels, which will be installed on the rooftops of public housing buildings for disaster victims, will generate power to charge EVs that are to be used as a means of everyday transportation for the residents. In the case of a blackout following a disaster, the solar panel power system can work as an independent power generation system to supply electricity. Electric vehicles with a power supply unit can move to where electricity is needed to supply power.

This environment-friendly disaster prevention system utilizing solar panels and EVs was introduced at the Yoshino Town Public Housing Complex for disaster victims in June 2015. Aiming to develop a sustainable model, the Exploratory Committee conducted a verification study on the social benefits of this system. As a result of deliberations over about ten months, benefits were confirmed on mobility support for the transportation disadvantaged, the enhancement of disaster prevention functions, and community development. Based on this result, this model was introduced to another area in the city with the intention of expanding the environment- friendly disaster prevention system to the whole city of Ishinomaki.

Various Types of Support Using Cars

In order to address various problems that occur in the reconstruction process, the Japan Car Sharing Association supports affected areas not only through the Community Car Sharing program but also through other projects full of ideas on how to use cars. One example is NPO Car Share , which lends cars free of usage charges to groups that offer continued relief activities in Ishinomaki. The association intends to support the whole community of Ishinomaki by assisting groups that continue to make contributions to the community.

Disaster sufferers will one day have to move from their temporary houses, but expenses for the move will not be small for them. In response, the association has developed the Move Car Share program to lend cars to the disaster victims free of charge when they move from their temporary housing.

The association obtained a license to run a rental car business in 2013, and began a service that rents cars at half price to registered members, under the condition that they have experience doing relief activities in Tohoku or have donated money to organizations that support disaster-stricken areas. This service aims to encourage people who have experience in supporting affected areas to return back to Ishinomaki.

The association has also launched the Support Rental Car service to lend cars for short periods at cheaper prices to individuals and businesses in need of the short-term use of cars to regain their livelihoods in the affected areas. In the service, the rental fee for the first three months is at the lowest price, and the fee gradually increases every three months, with a view to encouraging service users to rebuild their lives and grow out of this service as early as possible.

And now, the association extends helping hands to areas other than Ishinomaki when an immediate need for a car arises there due to a disaster or other emergencies, by providing its one-month free rental car service and car-sharing service.

Connection of Mutual Help Generated from Efforts in Ishinomaki

Community car sharing is generating a variety of ripple effects in Ishinomaki. The association has created a practical guidebook for the program, and made it available on its website for free, in the hope that the scheme of the program will be useful for other local governments, non-profit organizations, and neighborhood associations that address the issues of an aging society, mobility, communities, disaster mitigation, and the environment, etc.

Ishinomaki is one of the places hit by an unprecedented great disaster, but in the city there are a number of people who are trying to recover from the disaster in a resilient manner. People in Ishinomaki who received support and the spirit of mutual aid from around the country are now trying to do something out of gratitude as supporters. Mutual aid using cars is anticipated to bring hope and vitality to affected areas and other places throughout Japan.

Written by Yuriko Yoneda