Important legal notice
Contact   |   Search   
RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 38 - July 2003   
 Europe's troubled seas
 Gutsy bacteria 
 The triumphs of a gene hunter

Download pdf de en fr

Title  Utopia on wheels

Some 100 000 Europeans currently take part in car sharing schemes, a system which gives access to an automobile at any time without the hassle of ownership. As part of its research into mobility, the European Union is supporting efforts by the MOSES project to coordinate the technological and organisational solutions essential to this transport revolution. 

Graphic element
Stuck in traffic or circling endlessly for parking spaces – motorists themselves are the first to suffer from cars clogging up our towns and cities. Although policies designed to deter or offer alternative mobility are emerging, the fact remains that the fight against the urban congestion – and the resulting invasion of public space – is like striking at a multi-headed hydra. This is because, in many circumstances, the car still seems the solution of choice.

But what if the real nature of the problem lay elsewhere – that is, in individual vehicle ownership? Apart from anything else, owning a car is an extremely costly 'privilege', as in towns the costs involved must be offset by short trips of no more than a few kilometres. 

The pioneering Swiss
First viewed as rather a utopian idea, car sharing began in Switzerland in the 1980s with the first co-operative car fleets. These cars were positioned throughout Swiss cities and members could gain access to them at any time.(1) Today, Switzerland has 44 000 car sharers using a fleet of 1 750 cars located in 350 municipalities.  

The idea has since spread to other European cities, such as Stockholm (SE), Bremen (DE), London (UK), Bucharest (RO), Turin, Genoa and Palermo (IT), as well as some districts of Wallonia (BE). The international network, World Carshare Associates,   has recorded dozens of examples of micro-projects adopting variations on the theme. This admittedly small-scale movement has not passed unnoticed by the Union. As part of its ‘City of Tomorrow' action, the Commission decided to support the MOSES (Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability) research and demonstration project, which consolidates the principal European experiences cited above. 

Technology to the rescue
The potential of car sharing is closely linked to developments in telematics technologies, including global positioning systems (GPS) and the functionalities of mobile telephony for spatial management, as well as the follow-up of maintenance services and smart card systems. The latter serve as ignition keys for the vehicles and provide the means for identifying and invoicing users. 

This new tool for urban mobility cannot be developed in isolation. It must be incorporated – according to needs, distances to be travelled, frequency of use, costs for the user – in multimodal policies which include services rendered by other means of transport, such as bicycles, taxis and public transport. Its promoters view it as a 'missing link' and know that city dwellers are not about to abandon all idea of car ownership. But at least car sharing may induce them not to own two or even more cars as the solution to family mobility. 'We believe we can achieve a 10% reduction in the number of private cars in towns,' stresses Michael Glotz-Richer, coordinator of the Moses project. 'In terms of the freeing up of space and reduction in pollution such a result would have a very significant impact on the quality of life.' 

(1) Car ‘sharing’ should not be confused with car ‘pooling’, a practice of private car owners sharing journeys. Car sharing is aimed primarily at reducing private car ownership by providing a co-operative alternative. 

Printable version

  • Moses project site
  • Europa Site
  • World car sharing site

      Bullet Tina Klingberg, Michael Glotz-Richter
    Moses project co-coordinator, Bremen (DE)





    Bullet Tina Klingberg, Michael Glotz-Richter
    Moses project co-coordinator, Bremen (DE)