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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > Car sharing: Don't buy - just drive
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Car sharing: Don't buy - just drive

Do we need to own everything we use? One way to get more enjoyment out of moving around is to organise our access to vehicles better. Car sharing - essentially short-term neighbourhood car hire - is the missing link in an intelligent intermodal urban mix involving public transport, taxis, car hire, bicycles and walking.


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"Why go to all the bother of owning a car when what you want to do is drive one?" asks Moses, the European car-sharing project; it's not a rhetorical question; because when you stop and think about it, owning something is not automatically a good thing. Most of the best things in life are shared - theatres, parks, coastlines, universities, children, and love itself.

It is a tragic fact that as more and more of us own our own vehicles, they bring us less and less joy. This is because there is only so much road space and therefore we have to share it wisely. We cannot continue to macadamise our way out of congestion without destroying the environment we live in. We cannot all live in a Los Angeles-style low-density urban sprawl - and nor do we want to. Most Europeans relish the compactness of the traditional city, and would rather allocate precious space to a park than a multi-storey car park. Given good public transport, most of us need a car only rarely. What we do need is the right vehicle for the job in hand: a tram, bus or bicycle for the journey to work, and access to a car for moving shopping, children or parents, and for taking trips into the country. This is what car sharing provides: easy access to a range of different vehicles, close to home and available short-term, often for periods as short as half an hour.

Car sharing around the world

Largely unremarked, the car sharing movement has spread from the first large scheme, started in Switzerland in 1987, to serve over 100,000 people in 200 cities in Europe and 30 cities in North America. Today, the Swiss scheme is the world's biggest: called Mobility , its 44,000 customers share 1,750 cars in 350 communities throughout the country. At the other end of the scale are neighbourhood car clubs with just one car and a score of members.

How do you share a car? Since the mid-90s, GSM technology has simplified things. Today's state-of-the-art car-sharer surfs along to the club website, and books a car from the most convenient site, normally giving at least half an hour's notice. The member then goes to the parking site, and unlocks the car by placing the club smart card against a sensor on the windscreen. To get moving, the user just keys in a PIN number. When the trip is over, data on the time and distance travelled are transmitted automatically to base for inclusion in the monthly bill. Any petrol needed is paid for by the operator.

What are the costs? Membership typically costs a one-off fee of €50, plus a monthly subscription of €10. There is also usually a deposit of €150-€600 or so. But most costs are pay-as-you-drive, around €2.50 per hour plus €0.25 per kilometre. Unlike owning a car, the vast bulk of the costs are variable, not fixed: there is no up-front capital cost, and therefore no depreciation to pay for.

Patchwork of standards

Despite some substantial public support - Italy's Environment Ministry has pumped €9m into the Iniziativa Car Sharing (ICS) , which has been taken up by 12 cities - today's picture is confused. There is no single model. There are still many small local car-sharing associations and co-operatives, in which self-help plays an important role: for instance members might look after the servicing of a batch of cars, in return for a membership fee rebate. But the mutual ethos is being replaced by professionalism. More and more of the market is being taken over by conventional companies offering the same service over many cities - and in some cases across borders. Various types of administrative streamlining are being tried: outsourcing of reservations and maintenance, and the pooling of buying power to buy cars more cheaply.

Many schemes still use traditional car keys, kept in metal lockers, which members can open. The more advanced systems use smart cards linked to the booking and billing software via mobile telephony - yet there are still no European standards, and three main systems are in competition. This vitiates one of the most attractive possibilities that car sharing could offer - access to a vehicle when you are on a business trip or on holiday.

The problems are complex: how to co-operate with conventional car-hire firms, with public transport operators, with planning authorities, with property developers. A wealth of experiment is under way. Nevertheless the future looks bright. Several innovations are under development which car sharing businesses can introduce as they grow: open-ended hire (with no fixed return time), instant access (requiring no pre-booking) one-way hire (both within the same city and between different cities), and car access via mobile phone (as already practised in Helsinki).

The Moses project

The problem-solving methodology of the Fifth Framework Programme was a perfect fit for the question 'how do we best ensure mobility in towns?', and the Moses project forms part of the 'City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage' key action within the Quality of Life thematic programme. It runs from spring 2001 until autumn 2004.

The €3m project has brought together experienced and novice car sharers. It is led by the City of Bremen in northern Germany, where car sharing is firmly established, with 100 cars at 40 locations serving 2,700 people and a well-developed co-operation with the public transport operator. Other partners include the London boroughs of Southwark and Sutton, Stockholm, the region of Wallonia (represented by the three towns of Namur, Dinant and Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve), the Italian cities of Turin, Genoa and Palermo and latterly the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Alongside the local authorities are car-sharing companies Cambio and Taxistop as well as Bremen University. As a strategic partner, the project is joined by the 80-country-strong International Public Transport Union (UITP) .

The project's overall objective is to make the city a better place to live. In what seems a grand ambition, but probably is not, the project aims to test the hypothesis that 10% of Europe's car owners in urban areas can be persuaded to take up car-sharing within a decade. As each shared car replaces between four and eight individually owned ones, and each user only tends to drive one-quarter as far as previously, this will put a significant acreage of road space back into circulation.

Work has started with research into the state of the art, users' needs and the role of new technologies, and the first demonstration schemes are now under way in Belgium, Italy, Romania, Sweden and the UK. Continued work on integrating car sharing into town planning (in both existing neighbourhoods and new developments) will culminate in a comparative evaluation and the dissemination of recommendations.

There should be plenty of data to study: Turin alone - home of car giant Fiat - aims to have 4,500 people sharing 200 cars by the end of the three-year period. London has set legal precedents for reserved on-street parking and writing car sharing into deals between property developers and local authorities. Stockholm is piloting carpools for company employees, and developing integration with taxis and public transport. Palermo, concerned about air quality, is augmenting its existing fleet of electric cars with low-emission and gas-powered ones. Wallonia is looking at low-car tourism. The public transport operator of Bucharest, RATB, will become the first provider of modern car sharing in East Europe. Meanwhile experienced Bremen is piloting sophisticated techniques of intermodal integration and instant access.

In its first year, the project has made progress on several fronts. Research work has resulted in the publication of a State-of-the-Art Report and a User Needs Report . The crucial software systems that underlie modern-day car sharing are continually being improved. One set of improvements is to adapt to new technology by enabling access by SMS message, WAP and iMode. But a surprising number of difficulties have arisen in tackling the archetypical European problem - adapting to a multilingual environment and making supposedly compatible computer systems talk to the customers, staff and each other in their respective languages.

The future - multimodality

On 29th January 2003, MEP Karin Jöns and Bremen Senator Christine Wischer organised a seminar and exhibition on car sharing at the European Parliament in Brussels. The range of speakers demonstrated the movement's maturity, in that they included Hans Rat, the secretary of the UITP, which is giving over its world congress in May 2003 to the topic. Because this is one of the key messages of modern car sharers: that car sharing does not compete with public transport, it is complementary with it. Several municipal transport undertakings already run car sharing schemes, and a number of others - including the Swiss national railways - have a joint discount card . At the other end of the spectrum, luxury car makers such as BMW recognise that their products really only come into their own on the open road. Within cities, individual car ownership does not equal mobility. Multimodality is the answer.

One hindrance to this is our soft spot for speed. As Professor John Whitelegg of John Moore's University in Liverpool pointed out: "45% of journeys are of less than 5 km. Yet 90% of transport budgets are misallocated to journeys of over 5 km. We are biased towards high-speed travel." Transport policy-makers are still mistaking mobility for accessibility, to the detriment of our quality of life.

Cities round the world are trying out different palliatives for congestion: metros (Singapore, Delhi), segregated buses (Bogotá) or city centre road charging (London). Car sharing is part of a spectrum of solutions. Realistically, even the movement's proponents admit that our cultural preconditioning makes it unlikely that most families will give up their car. But that does not make the idea a waste of time. Many more will give up their ideas of buying a second car. "Overall, we can expect to reduce car ownership by 10%," says Michael Glotz-Richter, Moses project manager. "It will free up space in towns, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Everybody gains from car sharing."

A number of competing operators are vying for a bigger slice of the European car sharing cake. But the bigger question - for the benefit of city-dweller and society as a whole - is how fast that cake can be made to grow. Standards are needed, in areas ranging from wireless messaging to legal definitions of car sharing. The Moses project is laying much of the necessary groundwork.


Tina Klingberg, Michael Glotz-Richter
Moses project co-ordinator
Senator for Building and Environment
Ansgaritorstraße 2
D-28195 Bremen
Tel: +49 421 361 169 56
Fax: +49 421 361 108 75

Car sharing around the world
Patchwork of standards
The Moses project
The future - multimodality

Key data

Over the last 15 years, some 100,000 Europeans - mainly in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands - have switched over from individual ownership to shared car use. Further growth is being held back by different technical systems and low awareness of the benefits. The Moses project, part of the FP5 City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage key action, is aiming to break the logjam. It is improving technical systems, transferring existing car sharing systems to Belgium and Romania, implementing pilot schemes in the UK, Sweden and Italy, and raising its profile among decision-makers and potential users Europe-wide.


Moses - mobility services for urban sustainability (EVK4-2000-00042)


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