Here’s a bit of interesting news on car sharing companies, which, according to The New York Times, are catching on a bit in Europe. The most salient bit:

Studies suggest that one shared car replaces 4 to 10 private cars, as people sell their old vehicles…The result is a 30 to 45 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled for each new customer.

Now, 30 to 45 percent is a pretty sizeable decline in driving. But this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; as any economist would predict, converting a fixed cost (e.g., the cost of buying the car) to a variable cost (e.g., the cost of renting a shared car, which for Seattle Flexcars costs up to $9 per hour) makes people far more selective about how much they drive. And that probably saves car-sharers money overall: Yes, they pay more for each trip, but they make fewer trips, and also avoid much of the expense of purchasing and maintaining a car for personal use.

A few other good things about car sharing. If the Times’ figures for Europe are relevant to the US — i.e., each shared car really replaces 4-10 personal cars — then car sharing can reduce toxic emissions associated with car manufacturing anywhere from 75% to 90%. And that’s a lot of toxics avoided: For typical cars, about 60% of the life-cycle toxics emissions from cars comes from making them, rather than driving them.

Also, since a typical shared car is driven more than a personal car, it makes a lot of sense for companies like Flexcar to invest in super-efficient vehicles. For a car driven 5,000 miles a year, it may be hard to financially justify paying the extra money for a hybrid system; but for a car driven 20,000 miles a year, the finances pencil out a lot easier.

Which means that, between efficiency gains and reductions in driving, someone who is in a position to ditch a 20 mpg personal car for a 50 mpg shared hybrid Prius or Civic could reduce their personal gasoline consumption by, oh, about 75 percent. And they’d save money to boot. Quite a deal, no matter how you look at it.