How the sharing economy transforms the mobility landscape

The term “sharing economy” was probably used for the first time in 2008. It is the Internet-era version of practices that are nothing but new: peer-to-peer exchanges that mutualise access to products and services. But just as much as the sharing economy as we know it has been permitted by the emergence of new technologies of communication, in the last ten years, mobility (also not new) has been widely transformed by this new consumption model.

The practice is now common

Applied to mobility, the sharing economy translates to things such as car- or bike-sharing, shuttle services, ride sharing and on demand ride services. And it has a number of perks. As writes researcher Olga Novikova in the Technology Innovation Management Review, “overall, three factors seem to contribute to the ongoing worldwide growth in shared-use vehicle membership: i) cost savings; ii) convenience of locations, use, and access; and iii) environmental awareness.” According to the French Ministry of Economy, 32% of French people resort to collaborative mobility practices, among which 21% carpool. In fact, the development of the sharing economy is driven by mobility, says a PwC study: out of 300 companies created in Europe, those specialised in collaborative transportation generate the most revenue. And by 2021, says the Boston Consulting Group, the worldwide turnover of vehicle sharing will be multiplied by 7.

Access over possession

These now common practices have rooted the idea that we live in an age where access overrides possession. Research backs this up: according to Susan Shaheen and Nelson Chan at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, “shared mobility has had a transformative impact on many global cities by enhancing transportation accessibility while simultaneously reducing ownership of personal automobiles.” In detail, studies have documented the reduction of vehicle usage, ownership, and vehicle kilometers traveled (with positive environmental impacts); cost savings and convenience; the augmentation of the catchment area of public transit; the encouragement of multi-modality; increased economic activity near public transit stations and multi-modal hubs. In short, shared mobility is massively contributing to the transformation of cities that are no longer ruled by the car and increasingly organised around inter-modality hubs.

Will that ultimately mean the end of the car? No, swear car constructors and car-sharing platforms. The formers are exploring the possibilities of a “lease-to-share” model, in which a leased vehicle can be integrated into a shared mobility platform. The latters expect autonomous cars to “multiply car sharing by 10, or even 100”, said Paulin Dementhon, founder and CEO of Drivy, at an event in Brussels.

Leaving people behind

This overall success must not hide the fact that not everyone is embarking on this sharing adventure: according to the Local Governments and the Shared Economy Report, “current usage of carsharing and ridesourcing amongst low-income communities is below that of the general population.” And ridesourcing, or on demand ride services, are not positively contributing as much as other forms of shared mobility: “they may weaken the capacity of cities to live within ecological limits, particularly in downtown areas”, and “there are concerns related to the treatment of workers.” Sharing is only good if everybody can benefit from it.