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Evolving Practices for Sustainability

Researcher Hugo Guyader from the Linkoping University, Sweden and researchers Margareta Friman and Lars E. Olsson from the Karlstad University, Sweden published an article in Sustainability on November 2021, regarding shared mobility and sustainability. The article provides an a-up to-date review on this issue. Here are some of the key issues.

Shared mobility includes diverse forms of carsharing, bikesharing, and e-scooters services (i.e., “micro-mobility”), carpooling, taxi and on-demand ride services (e.g., ride hailing), alternative transit (e.g., “paratransit”, shuttle services), and private transit services (e.g., “micro-transit” services using vans and mini-buses) that supplement traditional public transit services. These services enable people to access mobility on a “as needed basis”.

Shared mobility can be viewed as a tool to reduce congestion on the roads, reduce transportation infrastructure, reduce CO2 emissions and the environmental impact of traveling, and reduce financial costs when compared with individual private ownership of vehicles. The shared use of transportation mode is possible on trips with a wide range of distance, and it varies in flexibility..

The paper highlights that nowadays, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) operators leverage this large diversity of mobility services from different providers and combine them into a single digital platform (i.e., a mobile app) to address the transportation needs of people in a user-friendly manner and based on a pay-as-you-go subscription pricing model. Such innovations in the mobility sector are considered as a way to increase accessibility to daily activities, with the potential to increase people’s wellbeing while reducing the environmental impact of daily travels.

Car Sharing Services

Carsharing services allow people to share ownership and usage of vehicles such as the benefits of owning a car (e.g., autonomy, independence, convenience) without the burdens (e.g., maintenance, parking, insurance) One-way carsharing (also known as “point-to-point”) is enabled by GPS, network communication, and smartphone technologies, and cars (most often electric) can be picked up and dropped-off at different parking locations or charging stations (e.g., similarly to bike-sharing docking stations) within city centers.

 Free-floating carsharing is essentially the same as one-way carsharing but without the dedicated parking spots. Instead, the fleet of vehicles is spread out within a predefined geographic region (i.e., city of vehicles is spread out within a predefined geographic region (i.e., city centers) and centers) and customers can geo-localize (and unlock) each car from a mobile app. Car2Go  customers can geo-localize (and unlock) each car from a mobile app.

Micro-Mobility Services

Micro-mobility includes mobility services provided through a fleet of small, low-speed vehicles (primarily bikes and e-scooters) for personal transportation in urban areas, as an alternative to ride-hailing, public transportation, or walking (e.g., trips of less than 30 min, like the First-Mile/Last-Mile), where vehicles can be accessed by one person at a time and paid at usage-rate.

Bikesharing systems are concentrated in urban areas, allowing users to access regular (“human-powered”) or electric bicycles on-demand at all hours from a network of dock-based stations or free floating based on GPS and mobile apps, for short trips in areas with good connectivity and a density of destinations.

E-scooter services constitute the other leg of micro-mobility, relying on a geo-fenced network of electric kick-bikes allowing users to unlock them on-demand in urban areas.

In essence, it is the same as free-floating carsharing or bikesharing, but using e-scooters, which are more flexible but more limited in distance.

Mobility-as-a-Service – MaaS

Based on the development of new technology (e.g., mobile networks, GPS technology, integrated payment services), the promises of MaaS include the provision of a more convenient and more sustainable solution than owning and driving private cars, and subsequently the reduction of congestion in city centers and suburbs, of traffic accidents, and of the space needed allocated for parking.

Thus, the study stress that MaaS is anchored in the shared mobility paradigm promoting access and shared usage over private ownership of vehicles, through the assumption that a smooth integration of a large variety of mobility services, like combining bike sharing with public transport services, is more appealing than owning, parking, maintaining, and driving a car. There are different levels of integration of MaaS: level one integrates information for multi-modal travel planning (e.g., Google Maps); level two integrates booking and payment (e.g., Uber); while level three integrates the service offers through bundling/subscription contacts (e.g., Whim); and level four extends to goal integration amongst all stakeholders through policies and incentives (e.g., UbiGo).

Shared Mobility

Shared mobility services are often numerous in large metropolitan areas and city centers. However, there remains an issue of first-mile/last-mile transportation, in that even though there are public transport services available, they are not close enough to the departure or destination of people for them to hop onboard. Here the researchers understand that there needs to be more research on how to overcome this barrier to access. One solution could lie in MaaS ecosystems that combine transportation services from different providers to suit particular mobility needs, such as riding a-scooter to the train station. In line with such a combination of transportation services by potential drivers.

The role of Autonomous Vehicles (AV) for the shared mobility sector deserved to be investigated since the development of such driverless technologies can have tremendous impacts on ride-hailing and carsharing services, but also public transport services and MaaS ecosystems.

Shared Mobility & Sustainability

Carsharing has increased its popularity, but is it really a solution to increase sustainability in mobility? Authors, analyze several papers to find an answer.

Authors, mention that Kolleck highlighted that one key aspect in assessing sustainability is better knowledge on how carsharing relates to car ownership. He argued that earlier research has primarily relied on survey studies and resulted in non-conclusive findings; some suggest very strong substitution rates between shared and private cars. By analyzing the number of cars available through free-floating and station-based carsharing services, as well as the number of private cars registered by individuals between 2012 and 2017 across 35 large German cities, Kolleck found that one additional station-based car is associated with a reduction of about nine private cars—but free-floating carsharing had statistically significant relationship with a reduction in car ownership. Neither type of carsharing had a significant impact on the markets for used and new cars. Although somewhat surprising, Kolleck concluded that these results are in line with some conservative survey findings showing that different forms of carsharing might have weaker or stronger effects in relation to sustainability.

Other researchers, Arbeláez Vélez and Plepys published a study called  “A. Car Sharing as a Strategy to Address GHG Emissions in the Transport System: Evaluation of Effects of Car Sharing in Amsterdam”, which focus on how carsharing relates to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) at both individual and city levels. Their study is based on quantifying emissions of travel habits before and after engaging with carsharing.

They employed a well-to-wheel approach to compare self-service business to consumers (B2C) and platform-based (P2P) carsharing in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In line with what one would expect, their results indicated that changes in GHG emissions after engaging in carsharing vary among individuals, where previously car-free individuals’ emissions tend to increase, while previous car owners’ emissions reduce. Importantly though, the savings in emissions from individuals who change from car-dependent to carsharing are substantially higher than the increase in emissions from individuals who change from car-free to carsharing.

Also, depending on the characteristics of the shared fleets, GHG emissions vary, with B2C  fleets tending to have lower emissions per passenger km than P2P. When looking at sharing at the city level, it is suggested that a greater reduction in emissions can be achieved if green technology adoption is combined with behavioral changes, rather than implementing one of them separately. Such strategies can be enabled through appropriate policies supporting shared mobility solutions integrated in city transport systems.

While carsharing consumers are assumed to be environmentally conscious, some also suggest that consumers prefer mobility providers who show responsibility and trust worthiness.

Further Research Avenues

The common message concluded by the authors is that the evolving shared mobility sector has promises for sustainability.

While there are studies that are focused on sustainability aspects of shared mobility, such as the influence of environmental concerns influence on carsharing uptake, the effects of carsharing on GHG emissions, a classification of various impacts of shared mobility modes, the authors believe there needs to be further research based on metrics capturing the benefits of shared mobility for sustainability (e.g., GHG emissions, socio-economic benefits). Such metrics could help researchers to better understand who benefits from shared mobility systems and who does not. Proper metrics may also be useful if decision-makers want to support the development of systems that tackle specific social impacts or that contribute towards some societal goals.

In light of the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, the mobility service providers reacted with new practices and users adopted new habits. Researchers should continue to study the evolution of socio-psychological attitudes (e.g., contamination concerns) on the willingness to use shared mobility services.

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