Bird graveyard © Greg Giachino
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It is often mentioned as a general trend these days: we are slowly but surely shifting from the ownership to the access of goods. Who would still want to own CDs if you can access all the music you would want via Spotify? And that’s how it is portrayed in the case of mobility as well: why own a car when it stays unused 95% of the time? Car sharing will be the new standard, according to the vision of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Works. Via an app, you can order your car when you need it, and it may even come autonomously.

Yet, there is a big fundamental difference between the Spotify example and the sharing of cars: Spotify has greatly improved access to your music. In the past, if you wanted to hear a certain song, you first had to search through your stack of CDs that were always in perfect alphabetical order. Not. And then hope that the right CD was in its case. Then load the CD into the player, find the song and there you had it. With Spotify, you hear your desired song within a few seconds.

With shared cars, just the opposite might happen. Compared to a car in front of the door, it is difficult to guarantee access with a shared car equally fast. Even if they can drive to your front door by themselves, we might need more cars than we do now, instead of the dreamed less, to make sure everyone has a (fully charged and clean!) car at their disposal within a few minutes. In addition, it is also difficult to offer a shared car concept at a lower price than an owned car will cost you now (think of private lease for 150 Euros per month). This only pays off for very occasional car users or residents of gentrified city centres with extreme parking fees. And sharing can also provide access to a car for people who used to use public transport or bicycles. Look at Uber, which causes up to 30% more traffic in American cities because of that shift.

Bird graveyard © Scooter Idiots
Bird graveyard © Scooter Idiots

Nevertheless, more and more sharing concepts are emerging in mobility. For example, the electric scooters that are filling the streets all over the world at an incredibly fast pace. Initial experience with these systems shows, however, that human nature is not very careful with things that do not belong to him or her: the average lifespan of the first generation of electric scooters turned out to be around 30 days, and even now the scooters barely live longer than 3 months. This means that the total CO2 emissions per kilometre of such a scooter are more than those of an electric car. And that while this mobility often replaces walking, cycling or public transport.

“Human nature is not very careful with things that don’t belong to him or her: the average lifespan of the first generation of electric scooters turned out to be around 30 days, and even now the scooters barely live longer than 3 months.”

Strikingly, partly because of this, people decide to just buy such an electric scooter instead of renting one that’s already worn out. A shift from access to ownership. And I think that this movement from access to ownership is more important than the shift from ownership to access that is so applauded at the moment. When owning a car wasn’t affordable for everyone, we all used shared public transport. Just like we made our calls from shared phone booths because individual phones were too expensive. A few centuries ago, several houses shared a toilet and bathroom. Now we have it all to ourselves.

However, I do believe in partial concepts for mobility. Not as a cost-minus, but rather as a service-plus. Being able to drive a Porsche from time to time, or using a station wagon when it’s more convenient to do so. And for professional use too, sharing is often the smarter and more comfortable option. See what Amber does for car sharing for businesses. They very cleverly provide guaranteed access to a vehicle because just as with Spotify, the service level should in any case not deteriorate in the case of a sharing concept.

But what about your car standing idle for 95% of the time? Most people really don’t mind. Just like they don’t think it’s such a problem that their electric toothbrush is only used a few tenths of a per cent of the time and waits the rest of the day for the next brushing without being used. You don’t even share it with your partner. And no, an electric toothbrush is not cheaper per period of time that you use it than your car.

PS for everyone who is interested in all modern mobility services: come to the automotive campus in Helmond on Sunday afternoon, June 2 to the Mobifest: all interesting new mobility developments on a public day, prior to the ITS Europe Congress that will be organized next week in Eindhoven and Helmond.

Mobifest Helmond

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.