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| Drive to solve car problems

There are too many cars in European cities, which is causing both pollution and congestion. Space is at a premium and replacing the private car would free up more of it, making our major conurbations more pleasant places to live in. Improved public transport schemes are an important solution to the problem, but there are times when only a car will do. By establishing car-sharing schemes that are accessible, cost-effective and fully integrated with the local public transport network, the MOSES project offers city dwellers a real incentive to give up their cars.

An advertisement for car sharing, an advanced form of car rental that is taking off in Europe.
An advertisement for car sharing, an advanced form of car rental that is taking off in Europe.
The main objective of the Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability (MOSES) project is to offer city dwellers access to a car without car ownership. Not only will that reduce harmful emissions from car exhausts, but it will free up space currently occupied by parked cars while saving car users money. Ultimately, those behind the project hope to persuade citizens that a private car is not a necessity. “Many people have cars for special purposes only,” says project coordinator, Michael Glotz-Richter of the Ministry for Construction, Environment and Transport in Bremen, Germany. “The car is used on average less than one hour a day, so for 23 hours a day it is just consuming space.”

MOSES is a research and demonstration project supported by the European Commission under its Fifth Framework Programme, as part of the Key Action ‘City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage’ within the Energy, Environment and Development Programme. Car-sharing organisations in cities all over Europe have taken part in the project, as well as urban planners, local public transport operators and importantly, the umbrella organisation for public transport, the International Union of Public Transport (UITP). Between them, these organisations have set out to persuade people that a more efficient way forward would be to have one car used by 24 people for an hour each day – a notion embodied in an advanced form of car rental called car-sharing.

Smart move

The concept of car-sharing is best illustrated by the experience of a typical user. A person living in a city decides he or she needs a car for three hours to take a trip to the superstore on the edge of town. Armed with a smart card and a PIN code, the person books a car over the phone or Internet, specifying the type of car required, the car-sharing station where it is to be picked up from, and the time factor. The automated system checks availability, providing a choice of models or stations if necessary, and the car is booked. The customer then goes along to the nearest station, opens the car with the smart card, punches the PIN into a panel on the dashboard to release the immobiliser, and drives away. On returning the car, and locking it again with the smart card, data about the journey time and distance is automatically transmitted to a central computer which generates an invoice at the end of the month. The cars are maintained and insured by the car-sharing organisation. “All costs are included in a time- and mileage-based fee, so the less you drive, the more you save money,” says Glotz-Richter. “That’s one of the key differences to car rental.”

Success stories

And car-sharing works. The German city of Bremen saw the first scheme open for business in 1990. Today, 3 300 Bremen inhabitants share a fleet of around 110 cars distributed between 40 stations across the city. Those shared cars have replaced 700 private cars. The scheme’s appeal, says Glotz-Richter, lies in the fact that car-sharing is quite simply cheaper than car-owning. Only if your annual mileage exceeds 10 000 kilometres does it become more cost-effective to buy a car.

Another success story is in the Belgian region of Wallonia. Based on the Bremen experience, the MOSES consortium shared its expertise with Belgian car chain operators and decision-makers to establish a car-sharing scheme there in May 2002. The software and publicity material already existed, so the task was to integrate the scheme with local public transport and urban planning – something they have now achieved.

Car-sharing schemes are already operating in every major city in Germany and Switzerland. The Brussels version was inaugurated in May 2003, and, in Italy, MOSES has collaborated with the national government’s own programme, Iniziativa Car Sharing, on schemes in Palermo, Genoa and Turin. Each city has its own needs, however, and some have presented bigger challenges than others.

In London, for instance, one difficulty has been that the British car insurance system is driver-based, rather than vehicle-based as on the continent. This means that a car cannot easily be insured for multiple drivers who share its use. Yet Glotz-Richter reports a positive experience in London, too, in that urban planners have seized on the scheme’s potential for releasing space for new development.

The newest accession countries to the European Union have different needs again. The Romanian capital Bucharest is one of the first cities from the new Member States to test out a car-sharing scheme. But taxis are still extremely cheap in Bucharest, so for the moment demand for car-sharing is low. As economic development proceeds in Romania, however, that will change. Glotz-Richter says it will be crucial to establish car-sharing in such places before private car ownership takes off, as it has in richer European nations.

The road ahead

These are challenges to be faced and solved, rather than insuperable obstacles. Glotz-Richter says that the main task for the future is to raise awareness of the alternatives to private car ownership. At present, there is a mindset which says, this car is my prized possession, a status symbol, and a corollary of that thought process is that people will justify their possession by ignoring the high costs of ownership. Only when they realise that there are cheaper, more convenient ways to get around, will car-sharing start to make the impact that Glotz-Richter is predicts for the future. The cases of Bremen and Wallonia show that people can change, if given the right incentive, and the result will be fewer cars on the street, a more attractive urban environment and cleaner air.

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  • Michael Glotz-Richter
    Ministry for Construction, Environment and Transport
    Bremen, Germany

  • MOSES conference : 'Keys to Car-Sharing - moving the city of tomorrow’, Brussels, 27/28 January 2005