A different way of being mobile: With car-sharing?

In 1901, Gottfried Daimler said: “The global demand for motorised vehicles will not exceed one million – simply because of the lack of available chauffeurs.” Developments since then show that mobility behaviour can change with the prevailing conditions. With emissions from the transport sector continuing to rise, a change in mobility behaviour is urgently needed for effective protection of the global climate.

One option to reduce the consumption of scarce resources, including urban land for transport infrastructure, is shared ownership and use of vehicles: in other words, car-sharing. Here, a distinction must be made between private car-sharing among friends, neighbours or family members, and car-sharing as a professional mobility solution. However, private individuals are increasingly offering their vehicles on online car-sharing platforms that connect providers and users (peer-to-peer car-sharing).

Car-sharing services: Stationary or free-floating

Since it began back in 1988, car-sharing has grown in popularity and now has more than two million users in Germany. There are currently around 165 providers in more than 670 towns and cities, ranging from local clubs – some with only one vehicle – to commercial enterprises with nationwide operations.

Users can book their vehicle of choice on the Internet, via an app or by telephone. There are two forms of car-sharing. Stationary car-sharing is based on a system of designated stations, where vehicles are picked up and dropped off after use. Free-floating car-sharing is the flexible option: vehicles are parked all around the local area and are available for spontaneous use.

Helping to protect the climate

Car-sharing can help to protect the climate – provided that it is not used to make additional journeys which produce more carbon emissions. It can also help to change mobility behaviour if it replaces private vehicle ownership, resulting in fewer journeys and less mileage overall. However, this can only work if the right conditions are put in place to make other modes of transport, such as bicycles and local public transport, sufficiently attractive.

Car-sharing also offers considerable scope for e-mobility. The large number of miles driven by shared e-vehicles means that their higher purchase costs are quickly recouped. Electric vehicles enhance the attractiveness of car-sharing to users – it gives them the opportunity to test the idea or to commit fully to e-mobility. As a further selling point, car-share fleets that run on fossil fuels generally produce lower emissions than privately owned vehicles.

For more climate change mitigation in the transport sector, a substantial shift in mobility behaviour – as well as alternative technologies – is essential. The study of the conditions required to facilitate this process is a key field of research at the Oeko-Institut.

share – A research study on free-floating car-sharing

How environmentally friendly are free-floating car-sharing concepts that are based on electric vehicles, compared to those which rely on conventional passenger cars? Who uses the electric vehicles, how are they used, and how sustainable are free-floating (electric) car-sharing concepts? These questions were examined by the Oeko-Institut and the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) in the “share” project, based on the free-floating car-sharing services provided by car2go.

Young, educated, on the move and multimodal

For the study, users of car2go’s electric vehicles in Stuttgart and its conventional vehicles in Frankfurt and Cologne were surveyed four times between 2014 and 2017 in order to identify possible trends. In addition, a representative control group was surveyed at the same locations.

The study revealed that car-sharing customers tend to be younger and better educated than the average population. Many of them also have a local transport season ticket and/or a discount railcard (Bahncard), indicating that they select the most suitable mode of transport for their purposes from a multimodal pool of options according to circumstances and need.

The majority of respondents reported that in addition to offering practical benefits such as flexibility and convenience, car-sharing evokes positive emotions: they described it as eco-friendly, cool and appealing. These positive connotations are even more pronounced with electric car-sharing.

Climate impact fairly low

The use of free-floating car-sharing schemes has little impact on carbon emissions, however. The analyses showed that after signing up for car-sharing, users tended to make more journeys, not less, by car. However, the use of electrical vehicles did have an effect, reducing emissions in Stuttgart. Car-sharing was not found to have any impact on the use of local public transport.

Furthermore, very few of the respondents had dispensed with their own cars in order to rely on car-sharing. Only around 3 per cent had sold their cars; according to the results of the study, free-floating car-sharing makes a negligible contribution to easing road congestion.

Towards an integrated strategy to transform the transport system

The study’s findings indicate that mobility behaviour will only change if car-sharing services are embedded in other measures to reduce the use of private vehicles. Cities and municipalities can steer this process by allocating additional space for walking and cycling and less space to cars, for example. Pricing mechanisms should also send a green message: parking charges should be reduced for car-share and low-emission vehicles.

These measures are not always popular, but they are more likely to be accepted by the public if there are opportunities to share vehicles when travel by car is unavoidable. In order to promote multimodal, eco-friendly mobility behaviour, new transport strategies and information platforms will have to be developed in the years ahead, above all in cities. Ease of use and convenience – for example, when booking and paying for car-sharing services – can lower potential barriers to access and help to ensure that people increasingly opt for car-free mobility.

share: Scientific supporting research of car2go with battery electric and conventional vehicles – study conducted by the Oeko-Institut and the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE)

The WohnMobil project – Sustainable housing with innovative sharing schemes

Car-sharing is not the only option for conserving resources and protecting the climate. Joint housing projects offer innovative opportunities for a sharing economy based on communal use of goods, services and space.

The WohnMobil project, conducted by the Oeko-Institut, the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) and the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), examined a range of services, from neighbourhood mobility schemes (car-sharing, cargo bike sharing, shared local transport passes) to joint use of multifunctional space, including a community garden.

Working with alternative housing projects and mainstream housing companies, the researchers looked at the development of housing-related sharing services. What helps or hinders the development of community-based sharing services? Which business and implementation models are viable? And what are their sustainability impacts – environmental, social and economic?

Diverse forms of added value for residents

Aside from the positive environmental impacts that sharing schemes have to offer, the main benefits for residents include more opportunities for participation, trust-building and appreciation, and therefore greater satisfaction with their housing environment.

In joint housing initiatives, a basic level of resident engagement may be assumed to exist, whereas in the commercial sector, a commitment from the housing company to housing-related services is required, along with adequate provision of staff and resources. However, the housing projects must also be committed to playing their part in designing and developing the various services that they see as desirable.

Unlocking talent, shaping conditions

Everyone has experience, skills and abilities that they can share with the community. By working together, these resources can be identified and utilised. This can best be achieved with professional facilitation.

The broader conditions are also important. Options for subsequent shared use must be factored in at the planning stage. Investment is also required to set up services and cover operational expenditure. And finally, during area development planning, the municipalities should consider the community interest and provide active support for stakeholders, for example through networking or the provision of premises.

Brochure: “Wohnbegleitende Dienstleistungen – Nachhaltiges Wohnen durch innovative gemeinschaftliche Angebote fördern” by the Oeko-Institut, ISOE and IÖW