Shared Mobility: Here’s how the mobility transition works
Grandma Trude loves her electric scooter – and is crusading for new mobility concepts that involve sharing, for “a pleasure shared is double the pleasure”. And maybe she’ll find a really nice person to talk to on her ride-sharing bench!
Summer is approaching by leaps and bounds, and when the sun is shining I feel fine, though I prefer to say “fine – under the circumstances”. You probably feel much the same way after worrying about Covid for so long and the horrible war in Ukraine for months now. Among other things, the war has bumped up petrol prices, which suddenly puts the mobility transition, towards decarbonizing and increased sustainability, in a totally different light.
So today I’d like to share with you some ideas on “shared mobility”. I'm sure you already know what that means. But I had to get my grandson Michi to explain it to me: several people share a car in order to save resources and reduce their carbon footprint.
I’ve written to you a lot about mobility. I use an electric scooter or take the train for the occasional long haul – to go tobogganing in the mountains, for instance, as you might recall. And my granddaughter Miri in Hamburg has a cargo pedelec that she let me try out. But what if you’re not that mobile anymore and you live out in the countryside like me? Or if you want to do without a car in the city?
Shared mobility in the cityThe biggest problem in inner cities is still all those cars. Less would clearly be more in this case! Sharing bikes and scooters can help here. But bear in mind, when talking about “scooters”, that there’s a distinction between electric scooters with a seat (aka electric mopeds), like the one I have, and electric kick scooters (aka push scooters). And if you’re using either as a substitute for simply walking, that won’t reduce your carbon footprint – on the contrary.
Scooter-sharingIf, on the other hand, you use public transport and a rented electric kick scooter to get where you’re going without a car, that will indeed make for a smaller carbon footprint. According to surveys, the e-scooter is used mainly for leisure-time pursuits, not to get to and from school or work. But I’m hoping this will soon change, especially in the wake of the current petrol price hikes.
Kick scooters were first authorized for use on German streets in June 2019, and, fortunately, they’ve been through a few “continuous improvements cycles” since then to become – at least so they say – far more robust, durable and, as a result, sustainable. The leading e-scooter companies claim to be “carbon neutral” and their declared goal is to go “carbon negative”. But then there’s the mostly lithium-ion batteries. They contain raw materials like cobalt, nickel, copper and aluminium, the mining of which is harmful to human health and the environment. So, here again, it’s not that easy to give a cut-and-dried recommendation, you’ve got to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself.
Scooting down the street with an app and a helmetYou’re not allowed to ride an e-scooter on the pavement: so, in the absence of cycle paths, you have to use the street or the shoulder. Pedestrian zones are off limits too. Only one person is allowed to ride at a time – ideally wearing a helmet – and must be at least 14 years old. Some rental companies set the minimum age at 18. You have to sign up using an app, even if all you want is to scoot down the street a few hundred metres. You also use the app to pay. Costs vary: in addition to a fixed price to unlock a scooter, you pay by the minute, and the rate may vary according to the city, day of the week and time of day. Electric kick scooters are a good option – as long as you get some exercise on the side.
Shared mobility in the sticksShared mobility includes not only car sharing, but also ride-sharing. If you’re thinking Uber, you’ve got the wrong idea. The American ride-hailing service has nothing to do with the use of ride-sharing benches to get a lift free of charge. Reading about this new shared mobility trend, I had to laugh a little because ride-sharing has been around ever since the first cars hit the road. Only we used to call it in German “Mitfahrgelegenheit” (lift-sharing) or “Trampen” (hitchhiking). But what is new is the emergence of “organized hitchhiking” in rural areas. Have you heard of “ride-sharing benches” yet?
Take a seat and you’ll soon get a liftIf you stand on a main road in the countryside in the morning or evening, you’re bound to see some motorists all alone in their cars en route to work or the local shopping centre – now that village shops have long since closed down for good. And as we know, public transport in rural areas isn’t always very developed; coaches don’t even stop in some remote villages. So what do you do if who haven’t got your own car, whether by choice or not, and you still need to get from A to B – but without having to make elaborate arrangements ahead of time? One solution is to plop yourself down on a ride-sharing bench and wait for some kind motorist to give you a lift spontaneously. There might even be a sign provided by the ride-sharing company for you to hold up, indicating your destination or at least which direction you’re headed. A number of municipalities in Bavaria have set up ride-sharing benches, and many more are considering following suit. Incidentally, ride-sharing benches can also come in handy for getting around in the city, too.
When you least expect itSo the municipality sets up a network of ride-sharing benches along various through roads. The benches are, ideally, uniformly designed to immediately signal to drivers-by: The person sitting here needs a lift! This is a good way for older folks in particular to catch a ride to the doctor’s or the shops in town. One significant side-benefit, by the way, is the possibility of striking up a nice conversation, even a new friendship, between, say, two lonely people. And, if you’re a tourist in the area, you can get good tips from locals at a ride-sharing bench. In any case, I find the idea quite charming and I’d love to see this form of organized hitchhiking catch on all over the country. It may come in handy for me, too: who knows how long I’ll still be able to get around on my scooter?
On the other hand, if you’ve got an appointment and no one gives you a lift, that can be a problem. So I’d suggest trying it out all the same, but getting there early enough to wait for a while, just in case. After all, we older folks do tend to have plenty of time on our hands...
Speaking of time, thanks for taking the time to hear me out. Let's hope the mobility transition will really catch on all over the world – and sooner than later!