Public privileges for car sharing enshrined in German law

The German parliament has approved the first law that promotes the use of car sharing. It will come into effect in September, shortly before the German parliamentary election.

Known in German media and campaigning circles as ‘the car sharing law’, it was approved by the Bundestag in late March. The law is necessary because under Germany’s basic law that governs all other legislation, no road user group can be given privileged treatment over another. The new law establishes for the first time a legal basis for public parking spaces, as well as other help for car sharing to be established.

The main benefit of the new law will be that local authorities can create parking spaces that are available for use only by cars that are part of a car sharing scheme. It also allows for reductions or exemptions from parking charges for cars registered with a car sharing scheme, though whether local authorities will make use of this remains to be seen as it will mean a drop in their revenue.

Car sharing is currently flourishing in Germany. The latest figures show 150 registered car sharing agencies, which between them boast 1.7 million customers in almost 600 towns and cities.

Two models of car sharing are evolving: fixed-base and ‘free floating’. The fixed-base model involves cars being registered to a parking location where customers pick up the car and return it to the same place, while ‘free floating’ allows customers to pick up a car at one location and leave it at another at the end of the use. As a result, the new law distinguishes between two types of reserved car space. For fixed-base car sharing, spaces can be designated for use by a specific agency, while for cars from free floating agencies there can be spaces to be used by any car as long as it is identifiable as being part of a registered car sharing scheme.

The new law makes it clear that the privileges being given to car sharing are justified on environmental grounds. Giving evidence to a Bundestag hearing to prepare for the new law, Gerd Lottsiepen of T&E’s German member VCD said: ‘Car sharing supports people who choose to get rid of their car, and therefore encourages the development of a transport system for the future. It reduces the number of car journeys, and brings environmental benefits because the amount of CO2 and exhaust gases falls significantly.’

The German Association for Car Sharing (BCS) has welcomed the new law, but says car sharing organisations have an obligation to make it clearer that a car is part of a sharing scheme, otherwise there could be abuse of car sharing parking spaces and resentment of the privileges.

A range of studies have put the number of private cars that can be replaced by one shared car at between eight and 20. The higher the number, the more street space can be freed up for resident-friendly facilities.

T&E’s clean vehicles and emobility officer, Yoann Le Petit, said: ‘Car sharing leads to CO2 savings by reducing the number of journeys, and is an essential step in moving away from car ownership towards more sustainable, less congested mobility. Together with the progressive electrification of the fleet, car-sharing is a key pillar of the transition to clean urban mobility.’