Car sharing is part of the solution to urban mobility problems, says Michael Glotz-Richter.
Is car sharing part of the solution to urban mobility problems?
One of the problems commonly identified in European cities is that there are not enough parking spaces. Others might say that ‘there are too many cars and they are too big’. Independent of political positions, there is a growing competition for street space and additional demands are being made by e-charging points, loading zones and other logistics solutions, by adaptation to climate change (‘cool streets’), by walking and cycling and the social role of street space in urban neighbourhoods.
A traditional, but expensive, way to deal with the demand for space by parked cars is the provision of parking garages in neighbourhoods. The city of Bremen in Germany – which faces substantial financial problems – has added a more efficient and sustainable option: the promotion of car sharing. Bremen’s modal split is overall quite sustainable: 64% of its residents’ trips are done by walking, cycling and public transport. A 2019 survey showed that 26% of all parked cars in the streets of the SUNRISE neighbourhood were not moved for three consecutive workdays.
The market-based service of car sharing can exploit a huge potential for a more efficient, more flexible and still very reliable alternative to car ownership
a framework for successful car sharing
From a municipality’s perspective, it is important to exploit the potential of car sharing to replace car ownership. Surveys (eg, Team Red, 2018) show that from the user’s perspective, the top three requirements are easy handling, reliability and proximity of car sharing stations.
Handling and reliability are the responsibility of the operator. Reliability is an important difference between station-based car sharing and free-floating services. To be a real alternative to car ownership, a car must be available when it’s needed.
Station-based systems allow both reservation in advance and spontaneous access. Pure free-floating systems only allow reservations a few minutes in advance, meaning you cannot be sure a car will be there when you need it. The forerunner city of Bremen shows that almost 80% of car sharing users have no car in the household: it replaces the “first car”. As the reliability of the car sharing service is such a crucial aspect for non-car owners, station-based car sharing systems have a significant advantage.
In general, good public transport and cycling systems are pre-conditions for independence from car ownership. Car sharing can replace the first car in households when people can do their daily trips (to work, to university, grocery shopping, kids to school, etc.) without a car. The 23,000 users of the local car sharing service represent about 7% of Bremen’s drivers. The Swiss cities of Zurich and Bern show that there is even higher potential.
Those whose annual mileage is lower than 10-12,000 kilometres are usually financially better off with car sharing than with private car ownership. Car sharing also offers aspects of convenience and flexibility: there is no need to deal with winter tires or maintenance and there is a range of vehicles available in the car sharing fleet which can address almost every need.
The 23,000 users of the local car sharing service represent about 7% of Bremen’s drivers. The Swiss cities of Zurich and Bern show that there is even higher potential.
Practicalities of car sharing
To become a customer of car sharing, you need to have and show a driving licence. With machine-readable driving licences, registration can take place online. Payment is usually made by direct debit or credit card. Reservations can be made online (smartphone app or via Internet) and some operators offer customer services via a call centre. Access to the car is via smart card or mobile phone app. With station-based services, you reserve the car for the time that you expect to use it. A combination of a time-based and a mileage-based fee allows you to calculate the costs of each trip.
Integration into urban regeneration: an efficient way to reclaim street space
Many European neighbourhoods need to reclaim street space from car parking. The promotion of car sharing is by far the most efficient strategy to reduce the number of cars in an urban neighbourhood without curbing mobility but giving more flexibility. The Bremen impact studies show that its 23,000 car sharing users gave up (or did not buy) more than 7,000 cars. This is equivalent to 35 kilometres of cars parked end-to-end. To achieve similar impacts by building parking garages would require an investment of €100 million to 150 million.
It is the role of a city to provide space for on-street car sharing stations in its neighbourhoods. Such stations (called mobil.punkt in Bremen) are visible, easy-to-reach and serve as promotion for the service. The density of stations is important to make car sharing attractive. In some of Bremen’s urban neighbourhoods, stations can be found every 300 metres.
Integration in new developments: contribution to affordable housing
Car parking significantly increases construction costs. Underground parking can make up 15-20% of overall construction costs. Surface parking consumes space and reduces the quality of the environment.
Whereas in the past, car parking was required for all new developments, recent legal developments allow developers to offer mobility management that favours sustainable modes (and reduces costs).
Depending on the location, the developer will have to replace car parking by offering a car sharing station and membership offers, cargobike-sharing, bike-sharing, season tickets for public transport and other mobility services. A first survey (Team Red, 2022) confirms that the number of car-free households, at 32%, is much higher than in the reference case (16%).
Awareness and Information: Udo presents car sharing
Awareness about car sharing is the first step in promoting its use. How does it work? What is in it for me? In Bremen, the comic figure Udo (short for: Use it – don’t own it) presents the advantages of car sharing. Udo prefers to chill rather than change tires, tank up or deal with maintenance. Postcards, billboard posters and even cinema commercials increase awareness among citizens, stakeholders and decision-makers.
municipal car sharing action plan: what a city can do
Being aware of the advantages of car sharing for urban development, the city of Bremen developed the world’s first municipal car sharing action plan in 2009. It set a target to quadruple the number of car sharing users from 5000 in 2009 to 20,000 by 2020. However, more important than the number of users were the impacts: at least 6000 cars taken off the streets.
The municipal car sharing action plan focussed on the measures in the responsibility of a city to support the development of (commercially operated) car sharing.
Key aspects are:
- Provision of on-street car sharing station in urban neighbourhoods (mobil.punkt)
- Incorporating car sharing in new developments
- Integrating public transport and car sharing
- Car sharing in fleet management (both for the administration itself and for the business sector)
- Information and awareness.
Being aware of the advantages of car sharing for urban development, the city of Bremen developed the world’s first municipal car sharing action plan in 2009
Bremen wants to exploit the further potential of car sharing as part of its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) and its strategies for affordable housing. Electrification of the car sharing fleet is a shared task of the operator and the city as intelligent charging infrastructure will be required at car sharing stations. In the long term, automation may play a role by allowing car sharing vehicles to come to customers or to return to stations. Michael Glotz-Richter is Senior Project Manager for Sustainable Mobility at the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen’s Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Mobility, Urban Development and Housing.
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