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Car sharing, a powerful boost to alternative mobility


In the future, it won’t be easy to get around like we do today. Pollution, urban congestion and rising fuel costs are slowly causing people living in the city and the country to switch from private car use to shared transport solutions.

Car sharing is starting to become a credible alternative to individual car ownership. It’s no longer necessary to invest in a car, as car sharing allows people to rent a vehicle only when they need it, on a pay-per-kilometre basis. The savings are considerable given that a private car is only used 50 minutes per day on average and that one out of two trips is shorter than three kilometres. In fact, according to several studies*, 40% of members of car-sharing services sold their vehicle after signing up. Some observers claim that every shared car replaces 5 to 10 private cars.

An urban craze

Originating in Switzerland in the 1970s, car sharing is spreading like wildfire across Europe. The solution is particularly well suited to city life. At any time of the day or night, members can book a vehicle and pick it up from one of the programme’s parking bays. Car-sharing services provide a flexible option alongside traditional modes of public transport, such as the bus, underground or tram.

A key factor to the success of car sharing is the ease of use that comes from being able to pick up and return a vehicle around the clock.

The most popular models are small city cars. Practical and easy to drive, they are perfect for short trips in the city. In some places, the fleets are entirely electric. Demand for car‑sharing services tends to be the strongest on the weekend. Prices are based on time and distance travelled. Members typically pay around €0.5 per kilometre and €4 per hour. Depending on the company, the monthly fee varies from €5 to €25.

The success of these new mobility solutions is closely linked to our changing perception of the car. Once a mark of social status and a symbol of freedom, the automobile is starting to be regarded as a purely utilitarian object, i.e., a simple means of transport devoid of any sentimental value.

The German exception

In France, and more generally Europe, car sharing is primarily available in the country’s capital and two or three other major cities. In Germany, however, car-sharing services exist in nearly 500 cities and towns. Karlsruhe, for example, a city of 300,000 in the state of Baden-Württemberg, has the world’s largest fleet of shared vehicles, with 2.15 cars per 1,000 inhabitants.

BMW and Daimler, two of the world’s leading car-sharing companies, are partly responsible for the success of the concept in Germany. For years, they have invested heavily in mobility services. But the popularity of the country’s car-sharing programme is also the result of strong public policy measures aimed at promoting this new mobility concept. In particular, the German transport ministry has announced plans to steadily increase the number of parking spaces reserved for shared vehicles.

The free-floating principle, a decisive factor

Mobility is constantly evolving. Not too long ago, users of car-sharing services had to return their vehicle to the same location where they picked it up, under what is known as a back-to-base scheme. With the introduction of free floating, they can now drop off their vehicle at any parking space in the city centre. Customers can unlock and lock their car with a smartphone app – a staple these days – without having to book in advance or specify a drop-off time. This “stationless” car-sharing system is significantly less expensive for cities.

Peer-to-peer car sharing

P2P car sharing is another trend that has emerged in recent years. This form of lending allows car owners to rent their vehicle to neighbours or friends when they’re not using it. Transactions aren’t necessarily managed by a private or community-run third party. However, there are several platforms providing all-in-one solutions that connect owners and users, manage payments and, most importantly, handle insurance. The most popular schemes are Koolicar, Drivy and OuiCar.

In a country like France, where five million households don’t own a car, P2P car sharing offers many advantages. For example, it caters to all geographic regions, including rural and suburban areas, and it offers a complementary service to public transport that benefits the entire community.

A nice perk

Car sharing is becoming simpler and more accessible, and it still has plenty of room to develop. Many different avenues are being explored. Corporate car sharing is one possibility. Some companies use their fleets only during work hours. Why not let employees use the cars for their private use as well, in exchange for a contribution to driving costs? With nearly three million vehicles, France’s corporate fleet could be the next shared mobility segment to undergo development in the coming years.

* Sources:

Enquête nationale sur l’autopartage, ADEME, 2016

– Autopartage dans la sphère privée, ADETEC

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