While urban mobility is moving in the direction of walking, on middle- and long-range trips there is less use of private vehicles. Car-sharing platforms like Blablacar have shown that the reasons are economic and environmental: there is a change in mentality toward doing things together and thus promoting a more sustainable kind of urban mobility.
Going back to wagons would be to go very far back, but it’s an expressive image to explain an unstoppable trend: the change in paradigm in the cities. Urban centres began to fill up with pedestrians competing with buggies, then came the trams, and later streets overflowing with cars. Now everything points to a new model of urban mobility: pedestrianisation and a lack of private space changes habits and relegates private vehicles to the second rank, thus promoting more sustainable mobility. The public becomes more important, along with what is shared and even renting by the hour. All this seasoned with the ease of choice that is provided by technology.
When it comes to urban mobility, it’s enough to look at what’s going on in the large European capitals and in Spanish cities. The winners are bicycle services and combinations of transport, options that promote a more sustainable mobility. Ignoring for a moment what’s going on the cities, this change in habits is conditioning middle and long distances. Platforms like Amovens or Blablacar are the leaders in a travel system that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable: sharing a car that brings together riders who don’t know each other, and then share the expenses. They have several features: they are generally cheaper than other travel options, are easier on the environment, and promote social contact.
In Spain, Blablacar –of French origin– has annual profits of 900,000 euros and has 2.5 million users, according to the firm. This car-sharing system is simple: a passenger decides on the route and looks for someone who is driving that way, who then decides on the cost and the points of departure and arrival. Rows of cars waiting for passengers –who have previously consulted details about the driver– can be seen at the usual meeting points. Spokespersons for the car firms claim that sharing a vehicle brings a saving of 1 million tons of carbon dioxide and 255 million euros. Not to mention the possibility of reaching destinations that previously would have demanded something of a military operation. Or the flexibility of hours and stopping points.
“The first thing we tend to think is that this is the result of the crisis. And in part that’s true. Although not just from the economic point of view but, above all, as a reflection about what we possess and how much we really use. But there’s also a much more profound change. The virtual applications and new devices have brought together needs and affinities on a scale never before imagined. If much more is shared it is because now it is possible and people want to,” says Alfredo Ruiz, founder along with his partner of SocialCar, a platform that loans cars for one or more days, in an interview with the General Directorate of Traffic.
Problems when it comes to sharing a car? Exclusive of the battle among companies related to transportation, which have already tried to denounce cases in which so-called “cooperative economy” is in fact profit-making, the environmental explanations for these systems do not convince everyone. For Paco Segura, coordinator in Spain for Ecologistas en Acción, this model would be “positive” were it not for the fact that it usually involves other policies that are not as beneficial for sustainable mobility. “We take one step forward and two backwards. At the same time as we provide new means, we continue to dig tunnels and build bridges so that cars can continue to be driven,” he says of the urban landscape. “We have to follow two scripts: stimuli (with alternatives) and making people aware of the need to give up what’s private, he concludes. These two roads will open up a new paradigm.
Text: Alberto García