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  • Sharing is caring. So why are European cities falling behind?

    New mobility services like Uber and Lyft offer the potential to get cities moving, improve quality of life and reduce emissions. But this will only happen if new and traditional mobility services can be integrated to make a more attractive offering that finally persuades drivers out of their cars, write Greg Archer and Yoann Le Petit.

    It is increasingly accepted that vehicles in the next decade will be transformed both through electric powertrains and driverless technologies. But whether sharing – the “third mobility revolution” – will take-off or remain niche in Europe remains in the balance.

    There is an appetite at EU level to embrace this revolution, as Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc emphasised in a recent interview when she said “shared, collaborative, and multimodal mobility solutions are the future”. But the attitudes of city authorities will be key: specifically whether new mobility services should be viewed as complementary to public transport and taxis – or as unwanted competition.

    At present European cities are uniformly clogged by privately owned cars carrying a single person and occupying a football pitch of land. New mobility services enabled by digital technology offer the potential to get cities moving, improve quality of life and reduce emissions. But this will only happen if new and traditional mobility services can be integrated to make a more attractive offering that finally persuades drivers out of their cars.

    Recent studies by the International Transport Forum (ITF) have shown the huge potential of sharing vehicles in cities. The ITF estimates that in Lisbon ride sharing could lead to a 95% reduction of congestion and would cut traffic emissions by 33%. (The ITF modelling looks at the potential of shared use but assumes demand for travel stays constant.) Similar results were found in a simulation for Helsinki. Such dramatic changes arise from a shift from private car ownership to shared taxi and minibuses that complement existing metro and tram services as well as put a lid on total travel demand. Public transport is not replaced but transformed.

    McKinsey estimates that a third of the anticipated growth in global car ownership to 2030 will not happen and will instead be replaced by car-sharing. Many companies are now engaged in the race to develop and operate autonomous taxis, with the first paying customers due later this year and the cost of rides forecast to be halved. Whether the recent deadly accident with a driverless Uber car will set back these launches remains to be seen but science fiction is fast becoming science fact.

    A previous T&E study, as well as a study in France, points to car sharing in Europe reducing car use. But not all of the studies are positive. A survey in Boston found ride sharing created more traffic; and a UC Davis study found that after the introduction of ride-sharing there was a 6% reduction in public transport use. In San Francisco, the success of Uber and Lyft mean they now account for 20% of miles travelled and may exacerbate congestion during peak periods.

    The diverging assessments suggest the effect of shared mobility will vary between cities and that during the transitional period where private and shared use compete, congestion during the rush-hours could increase. There is also a longer-term risk that in a world of cheap, electric, driverless and convenient ride sharing, such services could induce additional traffic. Complementary instruments to reduce congestion such as adaptive road pricing, reform of company car taxes to discourage car ownership and increasing the cost of private parking will also be needed to end the dominance of the private car. Cities also need to more actively manage travel demand and promote walking, cycling and improve mass transit systems to complement the shift to electric, driverless and shared vehicles.

    Transformative change creates winners and losers and is embraced by some and resisted by others. The shift to sharing is happening fastest in the US and China while Europe is lagging. In the EU the sharing market leans towards car rather than ride-sharing, and rules are highly fragmented with cities and, in some cases, even city boroughs having different approaches.

    As most cities regulate public transport and taxis they are also able to manage – or suppress – the development of new mobility services. In some cities market access restrictions are preventing ride-sharing services operating at all or restricting licences. In other places cities have imposed operational requirements on new mobility operators such as constraints on the types of vehicles that can be used; or financial disincentives, like requiring uniform and not dynamic pricing. This makes it hard for new mobility services to develop in Europe and means we risk losing out on the potentially enormous benefits of shared vehicle use and new mobility.

    So how can we ensure traditional and new mobility services whether car-sharing, ride-sharing, bike-sharing or Mobility as a Service (MaaS) become genuine alternatives to private car ownership in Europe’s cities? How can we ensure that sharing services effectively complement, and do not undermine public transport?

    At the heart of this is the need for smart regulation that orchestrates collaboration between public and private mobility actors. In the EU, Finland and Estonia have adopted regulations that allow new mobility service providers to offer their services under similar conditions to those in which incumbents operate. Smart rules also enable the creation of open and integrated ticketing systems that combine the offer of all mobility providers. But companies attempting to offer mobility as a service (MaaS) through single ticketing systems have been rebuffed by incumbent operators or city authorities fearful of losing control over public transport operations.

    The key principle that should guide authorities’ regulatory interventions is public interest and not that of incumbents. This requires national and local governments to establish fair rules that allow new mobility services to grow and compete fairly. In return new mobility providers must operate according to social norms and pay congestion or road charges. A number of proposals for better regulatory practices were identified in that field in a recently published joint paper co-signed by Transport & Environment and nine other organisations.