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The sustainability of shared Mobility in London: the dilemma for Governance

By Horacio de la Fuente, Editor 

Recently, researchers from the University of Oxford and Tel Aviv University, Niahn Akyelken, David Banister y Moshe Givoni, published an article on the academic journal “Sustainability” regarding shared mobility in London. In the article, researchers, analyzed the sustainability implications of shared mobility and the need for new approaches to governance. They used a qualitative study of car sharing in London to examine the ideas, incentives, and institutions of the key actors involved in this sharing sector.

The increased efficiency in the transport system in London has played a key role in reducing the environmental emissions per capita in the city. While car ownership is reducing, the alternatives to car use and car ownership are increasing (e.g., car sharing, bike sharing, and ride sharing services). Among these services, the market for car sharing (i.e., car clubs as defined in the UK) has become one of the largest in Europe since they were introduced into the London transport strategy in 2003. The local authorities consider car sharing as playing an enabling role in achieving the Mayor’s target of reduction in car use and car ownership in London.

In the UK, car clubs are defined as formal car sharing schemes provided by a third party operator (for-profit or not-for-profit)

The governance system of London is significantly complex due to its decentralised decision-making process and the management and ownership structure of its roads

Considerable shifts have taken place in the UK transport policy over the past few decades. The underlying Anglo-American philosophy has resulted in a market-based approach being adopted through the deregulation of transport and the private operation of most services. The role of the public sector has been limited to providing a broad regulatory framework, and intervening where the market is not effective (e.g., through subsidy and additional service provision). The recent policy agenda has recognised the need to manage demand instead of meeting demand . Increasing road space will not resolve the transport capacity and congestion, as it is likely to lead to higher levels of demand. One of the most effective policy options in London has, thus, become to reduce the need to travel and car use

Car sharing has long been recognised as part of the transport strategy in London. At the initial phase of the research, there were only four key market players in the car sharing industry in London. There are currently eight car clubs, with around 193,500 members, and several other ride-hailing and peer-to-peer car sharing services.

It is possible to suggest that the historical shifts in the transport policy in London reveal the responsiveness of the local transport provision to sustainability goals in an innovative way. The policy agenda has consistently identified the negative impacts of car ownership as a key transport policy issue and ambitious policy targets have been set with stringent policy measures to address the negative impacts of motorised transport.

The car sharing market has peculiar characteristics: it is in the hands of the private sector with strong dependence on the local authorities. “To run a car sharing scheme, you need an operator and you need a city … It is about public-private partnership and working together,”

Finally, the most important change in terms of market dynamics is the reorienting of the focus of the market. “[For the first time the] car industry is now trying to understand how people are using their vehicles … something they never had to deal [with] before and they are finding it really difficult.” It is believed that the buy-and-sell manufacturing model is soon to disappear, as can be observed in the large car manufacturers that are beginning to promote themselves as mobility providers

Since 2013, the market has significantly expanded in terms of the number of providers (i.e., operators) and the range of products has become particularly wide. The existing players have started providing one-way floating schemes and electrical-vehicle-only schemes. New players have entered the market offering peer-to-peer car sharing schemes.

In line with this trend, the concept of ‘mobility as a bundle’ (i.e., integration mobility options into a package) has also become evident in the discourse. Specifically, the perceptions of the synergies between different mobility options, including bike sharing and car sharing, as explained above, seem to have materialised in the Carplus re-identifying itself as the CarplusBikeplus

The future of shared mobility is, therefore, not only a matter of collaboration between institutions, but of having a clear vision about what constitutes the most efficient and sustainable transport mix for a city that best serves its people.

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