Bicycles blaze a trail for car-share schemes


There is no shortage of active car sharing schemes the world over, from car clubs like Zip Car, to free floating car sharing concepts such as DriveNow and Autolib’,  all of which operate across Europe and the US.

Despite mirroring the methodology of London’s Boris Bike, named after the mayor who inherited the scheme from previous incumbent and instigator Ken Livingstone, not one has managed to garner the same ubiquity.

“There are challenges facing the nascent car sharing industry” Cara McLaughlin, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association’s (ACEA) communication director told TU-Automotive. Varying legislation, parking space availability, regionally varying approaches and service limitations top McLaughlin’s list. “Some car sharing firms have had difficulty coping with ensuring that their vehicles can be adequately distributed in cities with rules that vary between inner-city administrative sectors,” she continued.

Access to parking spaces for car sharing has proved an uphill struggle for several schemes. “Many car sharing services require privileged access to on-street parking spaces, which is typically managed by municipalities. This can be a critical vulnerability, as in certain cases the inability to attain the required access to on-street space can effectively prevent a car sharing service from operating” said McLaughlin.

Autolib’, used by over 220,000 people and operated by Paris’s Bolloré Group, has not found parking allocation a challenge with its car sharing service Bluecar currently operating in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, London and Indianapolis. Developing the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles first and foremost has been the key to its smooth transition suggested Christophe Arnaud, director of BluePointLondon. “Our staged development process focuses first on developing the charging infrastructure in coordination with local authorities to ensure good coverage and reliability.”

The London borough of Hackney is experiencing growing interest in car sharing, with 10,000 residents as members of car clubs such as Zipcar and City Car Club plus DriveNow’s car sharing service additionally attracting 10,000 customers in its first three months. There are currently 170 fixed bay car club vehicles in the borough with an additional 64 floating car club vehicles regularly based in the borough.

Ben Kennedy, principal transport planner for Hackney Council outlined the process of allocating parking to car sharing schemes. “The process normally involves the operator approaching us to ask for a bay in a particular area or where there is a specific need for development the Council may approach the operator requesting they base a vehicle in a particular location. There are negotiations with the parking department over the exact location. Certain streets in town centres, or close to the City fringe such as Shoreditch, can involve tougher negotiations but in almost all cases a new bay will be found because Hackney’s policies, including the mayor of Hackney’s manifesto commitments, identify car clubs as a strategic priority.”

Kennedy acknowledged that access to council parking spaces remains a challenge and, “will remain a key barrier unless all boroughs and other local authorities make the case for them strongly and support them unequivocally”.

Homes for car sharing schemes’ vehicles are by no means the only barrier to a wider uptake in cities’ car-sharing. Kennedy said: “Higher operating costs in London as a result of things like insurance, congestion charge and other fees mean that the cost to the user is still high and can discourage usage.

“Interoperability of car clubs and car sharing is an issue – currently each operator has their own RFID card and membership requirements. Other cities in Europe enable users to use the equivalent of their Oyster [public transport travel] card to gain access to different car club and sharing operations.”

With a number of challenges currently standing in the way of mainstream adoption of car sharing internationally – can a one-size-fits-all approach to car sharing ever work in the same way as it does for Boris Bikes? Kennedy doesn’t think so: “In a large and diverse metropolis such as London there can be no such approach, hence the reason that Hackney is open to and progressing different types of car clubs and sharing services such as fixed bay, fixed one way and floating one way.” DriveNow UK director Joseph Seal-Driver agreed, saying: “There will not be a one-size-fits-all product. It’s all about integrated mobility where people chose the best option for their needs.”

The teaming up of car clubs and stakeholders could be just what it takes to get the public sharing cars on a more regular basis. The Car Club Coalition – made up of Transport for London, London Councils, Greater London Authority, Bolloré, DriveNow, and Zipcar (among others) – aims to target one million regular users by 2025. It’s fitting perhaps that the success of car sharing should lie not with one single firm but must indeed be shared. 

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