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Examining the trade-offs of car-sharing in cities: mobility alternatives, congestion, and pollution

Natalia Fabra, Catarina Pintassilgo y Mateus Souza, EnergyEcoLab, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Project selected in Social Research Call 2020 (LCF/PR/SR20/52550008)

Congestion and air pollution are pressing problems in many cities worldwide. To alleviate them, policymakers are considering various options, from congestion pricing to low-emissions zones. One possibility is free-floating car-sharing (FFCS) services, which allow users to rent electric vehicles by the minute without pick-up or drop-off location restrictions within the company’s service area. Beyond increasing mobility options, FFCS can reduce congestion and emissions in cities as it promotes higher utilisation rates of green vehicles. This article analyses FFCS usage patterns based on trips made in Madrid during 2019. It has been observed that there are complementarities between FFCS and public transport in middle-income areas with limited public transport options.
Key points
  • 1
       The effects of introducing free-floating car-sharing (FFCS) depend on the incomes of the exposed individuals. FFCS service areas typically cover high- and middle-income neighbourhoods, reducing the possibility of low-income individuals to use the service. Yet, the most loyal members of the car-sharing service live in middle-income neighbourhoods.
  • 2
       The reduced public transport network coverage in middle-income neighbourhoods suggests that most loyal customers use FFCS as a complement to public transport when they have few travel alternatives.
  • 3
       In addition, these neighbourhoods register the highest rates of car ownership (i.e., number of cars per household). The analysis thus indicates that most loyal car-sharing members use the service as a substitute for private vehicles to complement the existing public transport network.
  • 4
       Based on travel frequency, results indicate that most loyal customers are more likely to use FFCS for leisure purposes, and less likely to use it during commuting hours. Even if these users are unable or unwilling to pay for car-sharing for their regular commutes, the service is a valuable option in the absence of public transport alternatives, particularly at night.
  • 5
       Additionally, the use of FFCS peaks earlier than overall traffic, with the number of car-sharing trips dropping significantly during the usual morning traffic peak. FFCS is also broadly used during the summer months, conversely to overall road traffic. These patterns suggest that FFCS contributes to smoothing overall traffic and, thus, reducing congestion in the city.
  • 6
       However, the achievement of these effects will depend on how the FFCS is used and whether it is accompanied by a reduction in the number of private cars. Unless certain conditions are met, this strategy may have the opposite effects to those desired.
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