The Contribution of Car Sharing to the Sustainable Mobility Transition

in Transfers


The popularity of car sharing as part of the urban mobility repertoire has barely increased from a niche contribution in recent decades. Although holding potential to address local issues such as congestion and air quality, but even more crucially to meet the urgent need to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions from traffic, car sharing often meets barriers stemming from local contexts, regulatory environments, and/or lack of political support or consumer awareness. In this article, we discuss the interdependencies of these barriers and provide some key elements to consider in the future when planning practical implementation, research initiatives, and policy support for car sharing in order to overcome the complex and interrelated barriers.

Car Sharing as a Part of Mobility Transition

Emerging mobility trends have led to the increase of on-demand service providers. This is fueled by people’s desire to have connectivity and convenience, as well as the availability of different transportation options to choose from1 as an alternative to privately owned cars. Current understanding of sustainable mobility includes not only the provision of efficient, extensive, and accessible collective (public) transport, but also demand-responsive transport services and flexible transport services.2 The new providers of on-demand services are revolutionizing the way people move, either by connecting drivers to passengers (e.g., Uber) or drivers and passengers to vehicles (e.g., car sharing).3

For speeding up the mobility transition, we will need to reconcile and enhance the collective transport and personal mobility axes of urban mobility. Giorgio Ambrosino and colleagues4 propose as a solution enhancing integrated and Patricia Baptista and “open” schemes of flexible and shared use mobility where the single mode, single operator entities would come together. In this emerging service-sharing transport economy, flexible and shared use mobility should be the new norm, where car sharing, rather than ride sharing,5 may be central to the ongoing development of mobility as a service (MaaS) in Europe.

Cristina Temenos and colleagues6 suggest combining multiple approaches in addressing the question of the mobility transition. Similarly, as a result of our recent discussions with car-sharing operators, local policy makers, and citizens, we argue that the practical support and implementation of mobility applications should involve multiple approaches: this is the only option for taking into consideration the complex dynamics between local and spatial particularities, technologies, different levels of policy making, and consumer practices.

Car Sharing as a Sustainable Solution

In short, car sharing is a service scheme providing short-term access to a car. The main difference between car sharing and traditional car rental is that in car sharing the locations of the vehicles are usually decentralized and access to the cars is very flexible. A car-sharing business typically owns the entire fleet of vehicles and rents them out to users on mobile application assisted platforms without the need for on-site personnel. Several car-sharing business models have emerged over time, ranging from station-based to free-floating fleets. In a peer-to-peer system, privately owned vehicles are leased, sometimes within a specific community.7 Along with the type of business model, legal constraints and local regulations play a large role in the decision-making process for implementing citywide schemes.8 Consequently, they also affect the subsequent acceptance and success of these systems.

Several societal and environmental benefits can be leveraged via car sharing, particularly concerning transport infrastructure efficiency improvements: a decrease in the number of vehicles on the road, and changes in (e.g., overall energy) consumption resulting from the adoption of new mobility patterns.9 One of the clear benefits is related to improvements in traffic flows, since decreases in vehicle ownership and vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) lead to more efficient vehicle use and, therefore, alleviate parking and congestion problems.10 As such, reduced car use and car ownership also lead to reductions in the use and dependency on fossil fuels with consequent environmental impacts. Several European studies based on survey results and comparison between car-sharing fleets’ vehicle use with personal vehicle use, conclude that implementation of car sharing leads to considerable decreases in particle emissions and up to 46 percent lower specific carbon dioxide emissions11 Car sharing also offers economic benefits by reducing household transportation costs, mainly in relation to vehicle acquisition and maintenance costs. Melissa McMahon and colleagues argue that it also promotes equity by increasing transport options and making access to a car possible for those less likely to own one.12

The Current State of Car Sharing

The transport sector as a whole (including freight and passenger transport) has presented an increasing trend in final energy consumption (24 percent increase from 1990 to 2014), being responsible for about 23 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the twenty-eight EU member states in 2014.13 This increasing trend is in contrast with other sectors that have been able to overturn this tendency. Consequently, the EU has been developing instruments to foster the development and implementation of more efficient solutions in transport. One of those actions has been through the 2009 Action Plan for Urban Transport, which identified, as its first action, the provision of guidance on Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans.14 Also, a 2011 European Commission White Paper further established the need for such plans, focusing on urban areas over a certain size, detailing that the attribution of regional and cohesion funds may be influenced by the development, delivery, and auditing of such plans.15 Nonetheless, the implementation of such an instrument is still underway and therefore in no way guarantees a near future promotion of more sustainable solutions for transport.

In urban and semi-urban areas, car sharing has, over the past few decades, consolidated its place as an alternative to private car ownership.16 It is most popular in areas with adequate public transport and short distances between destinations, reducing pressure on cities to provide more parking spaces.17 In Europe, for example, car sharing membership has grown tenfold from 2006 to 2014, and worldwide trends follow an even steeper path.18 As of October 2014, Europe accounted for 46 percent of worldwide registration and 56 percent of fleets deployed, being the largest car-sharing region by membership19 with market growth estimations reaching fifteen million users by 2020.20 Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands are the predominant European markets, with a 75 percent share of total European membership.21

Results from a 2013 survey conducted in Europe revealed that 25 percent of Europeans (in the EU) believed that travel within cities could be improved if incentives were implemented for car-sharing and carpooling systems.22

Nonetheless, a survey conducted by the Joint Research Centre revealed that there is, simultaneously, a large gap in Europeans’ knowledge of car-sharing systems. Knowledge is very high in countries where car-sharing systems have been in place for a long time, particularly in the northern and central European countries, such as Austria, Denmark, and Germany, but very low in most eastern European countries. However, even though people know of the existence of car sharing, it does not mean that they would use it, with one-third of the respondents stating they were not interested.23

The considerable growth observed in recent years of car-sharing systems in Europe might be explained by public subsidies and incentive measures, such as promoting car sharing as part of public transport, or providing parking facilities at the local level. However, in Finland, for example, car-sharing pilots have mainly been undertaken at the municipal level, not specifically supported by national government schemes. In Portugal, there has been discussion of including fiscal incentives for future shared mobility users. For Europe-wide growth and transformative potential, it is therefore necessary to tackle consumer awareness and acceptance, as well as incentivize up-take of membership and use of shares schemes as a sustainable and lasting alternative.

Potential Trends for the Future

Several emerging technologies may support the growing popularity of car sharing. In the case of electric mobility, Europe is slowly taking up hybrid and electric vehicles, shifting from the use of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, not least in the realm of public transport and other transport services.24 This trend is observed also for car-sharing systems, which in recent years have presented a growing presence of electric vehicles in their fleets. Electric vehicles and car sharing form a very suitable symbiosis, since they enable car manufacturers to test and disseminate their technology, but also to provide potential consumers with a better understanding of the specificities of electric vehicles. Good examples of the adoption of electric mobility in car sharing are EkoRent in Finland and Autolib’ in France.

The concept of car sharing may also be affected by the prospective emergence of autonomous driving.25 The acceptance of such solutions by the consumers is also expected to increase, with 68 percent of users stating that they would try autonomous driving when using car sharing.26 This would make the vehicle just an accessibility instrument without requiring action from the user. Via autonomous driving, the chances of sharing the ownership and occupancy of the vehicles and widening the concept of car sharing into ride sharing could increase and improve the overall efficiency of the transport system.27 Also, the basis of car sharing, which is traditionally directed toward urban use, may change with autonomous driving, since it could enlarge the offer to peri-urban suburbs, resulting in a wider target public.

The Means to Get There

Technology readiness levels associated with new concepts of mobility vary significantly. As a result, the ways of fostering the success of new solutions will vary also. For lower technology readiness levels, the role of EU funding or governmental support for the promotion of new concepts is crucial. This support guarantees that promising ideas make the transition from technological development via demonstrations to the market. Funding for research to support evaluating measures that would best serve this mobility transition is needed.

However, it is in the real world system implementation and operation that the main challenges arise at present, namely because of operational and user acceptance barriers. At this stage, a wide range of supporting measures are possible, typically described to cover the following topics:28 integration within the overall transport network and urban development plans; promotion of on-street car-sharing stations with larger coverage; using car sharing to make fleet management more efficient; establishing quality standards and/or certification for car sharing operators; and improving public relations and awareness raising. Decision makers should focus on overcoming these issues for the promotion of car sharing. Specific instruments that decision makers can use range from operation and investment subsidy schemes, loan schemes, and tax schemes (such as fuel tax, corporation tax, tax benefits on company cars, and tax on employer paid parking).29 These measures are crucial to fostering adoption of car sharing in support of a significant mobility transition.

We believe that co-promotion of alternative solutions for transport will bring the necessary synergies to the deployment of sustainable mobility such as car sharing. Mainly, co-promotion can be a more direct way to overcome information gaps and elicit wider user acceptance of novel solutions. Associating car sharing with other emerging trends in mobility—not only electric mobility and autonomous driving, but also other innovative solutions—can play a role. Route optimization technology and car-to-car technology allowing vehicles to communicate with each other can be promising, since these solutions have the potential to change not only the way consumers use and perceive vehicles, but also how car manufacturers develop their strategies and market their products and services. This approach has the potential to promote technology development and behavioral change simultaneously in a more effective way.

Support from local policy makers is important, as in the example of Autolib’ in Paris, where adoption of the car sharing of electric vehicles has been swift partly because of strong support from local authorities in helping to roll out such a system.30 However, careful consideration should be used when assessing how strong the role of public authorities should be in the operation of these services. Finally, it must be noted that different countries and policy instruments face diverse success variables and obstacles, which means that policy solutions are generally not transferable directly, requiring a hybrid strategy for their adjustment to the national context.31

Final Remarks

Car sharing might not be the sole holy grail of tomorrow’s mobility, but it can play a crucial role in the transition. It does have its risks, since though VKT is often reduced, car sharing can reduce the use of other modes of sustainable transport, such as cycling or public transport.32 Furthermore, even though cities have a strong position in promoting sustainable mobility solutions, established actors with strong interests might, and indeed have, been hindering the possibilities of novel mobility actors entering the market. The role of users is also crucial, as concentrating primarily on technologies and infrastructure can substantially limit the success of novel services such as car sharing.33

These aspects further underpin the importance of a more holistic approach requiring locally integrated but tailored policies in support of not only car sharing but urban mobility innovation in general.

Car sharing has the potential to create a win-win situation for various actors and societal targets but requires seamless coupling of the services with other sustainable transport options. The broader uptake of car sharing is a “chicken and egg” problem, essentially reverting to the question of critical mass of available services and users adopting them. To resolve this dilemma, we need simultaneous supportive measures within local contexts, targeted research, and funding to support this alternative concept achieving transformative value.


The authors acknowledge Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia through support from the IN+ Strategic Project UID/EEA/50009/2013 and the Academy of Finland Strategic Research Council projects Beyond MALPE-coordination: Integrative Envisioning (BeMInE) 303556 and Dwellers in Agile Cities (DAC) 303481.


Monitor Deloitte, Car Sharing in Europe: Business Models, National Variations and Upcoming Disruption, June 2017,


Giorgio Ambrosino, John D. Nelson, Marco Boero, and Irene Pettinelli, “Enabling Intermodal Urban Transport through Complementary Services: From Flexible Mobility Services to the Shared Use Mobility Agency,” Research in Transportation Economics 59, issue C (2016): 179–184.


Deloitte, Car Sharing in Europe.


Ambrosino et al., “Enabling Intermodal Urban Transport.”


See Nelson D. Chan and Susan A. Shaheen, “Ridesharing in North America: Past, Present, and Future,” Transport Reviews 32, no. 1 (2012): 93–112.


Cristina Temenos, Anna Nikolaeva, Tim Schwanen, Tim Cresswell, Frans Sengers, Matt Watson, and Mimi Sheller, “Theorizing Mobility Transitions: An Interdisciplinary Conversation,” Transfers 7, no. 1 (2017): 113–129.


Deloitte, Car Sharing in Europe; Alexander Jung, Car Sharing Services in Emerging Economies: Sustainable Urban Transport Technical Document #12 (Berlin: GIZ-Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2014).


Action Platform on Urban Electric Mobility Initiative (UEMI), UN-Habitat, “Car-Sharing” funded under EU FP7 and Horizon 2020 SOLUTIONS & FUTURE-RADAR (2016),


Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability (MOSES), Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability, EU FP5, Deliverable 6.2. (2015).


UEMI, “Car-Sharing”; Momo Car-Sharing, The State of European Car-Sharing: Final Report D 2.4 Work Package 2, grant agreement no. IEE/07/696/SI2.499387 (Brussels: Intelligent Energy Europe, 2010); Patrícia Baptista, Sandra Melo, and Catarina Rolim, “Car Sharing Systems as a Sustainable Transport Policy: A Case Study from Lisbon, Portugal,” in Sustainable Urban Transport, ed. Maria Attard and Yoram Shiftan (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2015), 205–227.


MOSES, Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability; Momo Car-Sharing, The State of European Car-Sharing; Baptista et al., “Car Sharing Systems as a Sustainable Transport Policy”; Hans Nijland and Jordy van Meerkerk, “Mobility and Environmental Impacts of Car Sharing in the Netherlands,” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 23 (2017): 84–91.


Melissa McMahon, Juliellen Sarver, and Sonali Soneji, “Why Should Local Governments Care About Carsharing?” MobilityLab (September 2013),


Eurostat, Energy, Transport and Environment Indicators: 2015 Edition (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2015).


European Commission, Action Plan on Urban Mobility, 30 September 2009,


Anthony D. May, “Encouraging Good Practice in the Development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans,” Case Studies on Transport Policy 3, no. 1 (2015): 3–11.


Jung, “Car Sharing Services in Emerging Economies.”


UEMI, “Car-Sharing.”


Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen, Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook: Car-sharing Market Overview, Analysis, and Trends (Berkeley, CA: Transportation Sustainability Research Center, 2016),




Deloitte, Car Sharing in Europe.


Jung, “Car Sharing Services in Emerging Economies.”


European Commission, Attitudes of Europeans towards Urban Mobility: Report. Special Eurobarometer 406 (Brussels: European Commission, 2013),


Davide Fiorello and Loredana Zani, EU Survey on Issues Related to Transport and Mobility, Joint Research Centre Science and Policy Report. EUR 27334 EN (Brussels: European Commission, 2015),


Helsingin Seudum Liikenne, “Helsinki’s First Fully Electric Bus to Hit the Road in January,” 17 January 2017,;AdamVaughan, “Uber: London Drivers Must Use Hybrid or Fully Electric Cars from 2020,” Guardian, 8 September 2017,


Wolfgang Bernhart, Jan-Philipp Hasenberg, Marc Winterhoff, and Ludwig Fazel, “Archetypes of Transformation,” Automotive Insights 1 (2016): 16–24,


Deloitte, Car Sharing in Europe.


E.g., Laura Bliss, “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles Is Shared,” CityLab, 6 January 2017,


Michael Glotz-Richter, “Reclaim Street Space! Exploit the European Potential of Car Sharing,” Transportation Research Procedia 14 (2016): 1296–1304.


Silvia Olsen and Nils Fearnley, “Policy Transfer of Public Transport Funding Schemes: The Case of Norway,” Research in Transportation Economics 48 (2014): 429–433.


Jung, “Car Sharing Services in Emerging Economies.”


Olsen and Fearnley, “Policy Transfer of Public Transport Funding Schemes.”


Henrik Becker, Francesco Ciari, and Kay W. Axhausen, “Comparing Car-Sharing Schemes in Switzerland: User Groups and Usage Patterns,” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 97 (2017): 71–29.


Tim Schwanen, “The Bumpy Road toward Low-Energy Urban Mobility: Case Studies from Two UK Cities,” Sustainability 7, no. 6 (2015): 7086–7111.

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Contributor Notes

Emma Terämä is director of the Sustainable Urbanisation Programme at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). Before that she worked at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria; University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and most recently University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources. She is an experienced researcher of urban sustainability and global population-environment interactions including climate change. She holds a PhD in physics (2007). E-mail:

Juha Peltomaa is senior researcher in the Sustainable Urbanisation Programme at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). As an environmental policy scholar (PhD in administrative sciences, 2015), his research interests focus on citizen engagement in urban development, complex adaptive systems, ontologies of societal paradigms, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. He is currently working on a project focusing on car sharing and works in close collaboration with Finnish car sharing operators codeveloping their operational environment. E-mail:

Catarina Rolim has a BSc in psychology (2004) from the Institute of Applied Psychology in Lisbon, and a PhD in sustainable energy systems (2016) from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), University of Lisbon, Portugal. She currently works at the IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology, and Policy Research at IST. Her research interests focus on citizens’ behavior and its role on sustainable urbanization, the impacts of feedback and ICT (information and communications technology) in home energy consumption and driving behavior, and the impacts of alternative vehicle technologies and innovative transportations solutions. E-mail:

Patrícia Baptista received her degree in chemistry in 2006 and a PhD in Sustainable Energy Systems within the MIT Portugal Program in 2011 from Instituto Superior Técnico. She is currently an assistant researcher at IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology, and Policy Research at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST). Her main research topics concern energy and environmental impacts of alternative energy technologies, life-cycle assessment, driver behavior, vehicle monitoring, electric mobility, urban logistics, and policy analysis. She has also engaged with a wide range of stakeholders. E-mail: