Prompted by a busman's holiday exploring the streets of Copenhagen, I was inspired to think about what we can learn about liveable streets and the role of shared mobility.
Summer holidays are a great time to relax and unwind, to see new sights, and take stock. As an enthusiast for liveable cities and the enabling role of transport, I found myself spending ten days with my young family in Denmark this August.
On arriving in Copenhagen, I felt as if I had found my new home. Imagine a world where the level of car traffic reminds you of crossing the road during the first COVID lockdown.
Improve on this world by adding bustling streets with people meeting, chatting, eating, and enjoying the summer sunshine. Add superb cycle infrastructure, which has resulted in normalisation of bikes, e-bikes, and cargo bikes used by young and old alike, for work and play.
Sprinkle some shared mobility (several electric car club operators, e-bike share, e-cargo bike share and some shared e-scooters). The result is amongst the most civilised city environments I’ve ever experienced, with the need to own and use a car much reduced.
We continued on to enjoy the beaches of Langeland, a 60km long island with 140km of coastline (Danish is a pretty descriptive language).
Our trip to Copenhagen and back was made easy by an electric Renault Zoe from one of the many car clubs available. Despite the very rural nature of the island, fully segregated cycle lanes mirror the single carriageway road through the island, supported by free bike rental and low-cost e-cargo bike rental at the small harbours.
We complain in the UK that sustainable transport in rural areas is hard, and yes it is, but it’s not impossible.
Towards the end of our trip, my 10-year-old daughter, used to the car-dominated streets of north London, was convinced. Unprompted, she started asking more questions about how many bikes and cyclists she'd seen.
‘Why can’t our city be like this, Daddy?’ Of course, Copenhagen is not perfect, but there is a lot from which we can learn.
Has cycling always been as engrained in Danish culture as I wondered? I defer to others on the history of cycling investment across Europe, but it appears that Copenhagen has been building momentum over time and in 2017 for the first time saw more bikes enter the city than cars.
In London, we have seen a similar stat in the City of London in 2018, but this is not yet the norm.
Returning to the UK, I was greeted by press coverage of government consideration of requiring bikes to be registered, insured, and extending speed limits to cyclists…
At Steer, the work of our New Mobility team includes helping clients to plan and grow the use of shared mobility. Over the years, we’ve supported a growing industry which started from small beginnings (car clubs in Edinburgh and TfL Cycle Hire in London).
From these early movers, schemes are helping to provide alternatives to using private cars across the UK, supporting public transport in a significant number of locations.
Our clients are interested in how shared mobility can help normalise life without the need to own a car (or multiple cars). Reducing car ownership and car use supports more liveable communities not dominated by the noise, speed, and severance of heavy road traffic where people want to live, work, and play.
In the following sections, I’ve highlighted ‘How shared mobility can help’ and ‘How can we maximise the benefits of shared mobility’.
How shared mobility can help
Shared mobility includes a range of services which can be accessed on a trip-by-trip basis, where travel by public transport, walking or cycling is more difficult or not practical. The addition to public transport, walking and cycling, of car clubs and shared micro-mobility, provided at scale, provides a range of vehicles to cover the full range of typical trips made by many people across the UK, without the need to own a car. Significant health, air quality, congestion relief, and carbon benefits can be achieved through this approach.
Car clubs provide access to a vehicle, paid for on a trip-by-trip basis, without a long-term commitment. CoMoUK research over the years has proven that car club membership reduces car use and car ownership, with each car club vehicle replacing 20 private cars (imagine how this could look on your street).
As a car owner, I feel car use is encouraged. It makes financial sense to use the vehicle, as the apparent costs per trip only include parking, which may be free, and exclude regular costs of fuel and annual costs such as insurance, tax, maintenance, and vehicle depreciation. As a car club user, the total cost for each trip can be compared to alternatives, and the automatic reliance on the car is removed.
Bike share provides access to bikes and e-bikes, allowing access to cycling both for people who don’t own a bike and also facilitates first- and last-mile trips connecting to public transport. CoMoUK research highlights that across the UK, over half of bike share users would have made their last trip by car if bike share was not available.
Shared e-scooters, while still currently subject to government trials, are showing promising results from emerging research. For example, in the Solent area, e-scooters in Portsmouth, Southampton, and the Isle of Wight showed more than two rides per vehicle per day and 283,000 car trips replaced by an e-scooter trip.
How can we maximise the benefits of shared mobility?
There are currently just over 4,800 car club cars (excluding Peer to Peer cars) being used by almost 800,000 members, compared to 32 million privately registered cars.
There are currently just over 25,000 bike share bikes being used by 2.8 million members, one bike for every 2,600 people across the UK.
Some excellent work is being carried out by local authorities and private operators, but the key to maximising the benefits is greater access to and provision of shared mobility, both expanding existing services and adding services in new locations.
- Working together
Shared mobility, unlike private car ownership, needs strong partnerships between the public and private sector to work effectively. Shared mobility should be a key part of transport strategies, with firm targets to grow provision by defined dates embedded in strategies and supporting plans developed to achieve this. A one-line statement ‘We will support shared transport’ is no longer sufficient.
- Re-allocating space.
Road space and kerb space are precious commodities, particularly in our dense cities and towns. A forward-looking approach is required to reallocate on-street car parking to more sustainable and efficient modes, including provision to allow the safe parking of car clubs and shared micromobility.
There are some good examples of this approach, but in too many locations, decisions are controlled by income from car parking, rather than public policy.
- Targeted funding support.
The private sector is keen to support expanded shared mobility services, but there is a need for targeted funding support, particularly regarding charging infrastructure, both for car clubs and shared micromobility.
When planning, seeking and allocating funding for electric charging networks, local authorities should recognise the additional policy benefits of shared mobility over private electric vehicles. Integration between shared mobility and public transport encourages greater use levels. There is a role for the public sector to maximise the potential of integration in terms of co-location (e.g. mobility hubs) and integration of payment (e.g. MaaS) both through policy and targeted funding support.
- Don’t be tempted to over-regulate or over-complicate.
There is a temptation to introduce regulation or requirements on new services which are above those placed on existing modes. For example, shared e-scooters are subject to No Go Zones and Slow Zones.
While these technologies have their place, there are currently local authorities who have been over-zealous in their use of these restrictions. Such restrictions should be sparingly. For example, it is dangerous for an e-scooter No Go Zone (which effectively cuts motor and the ability to ride the e-scooter) to apply in the middle of a road where this does not apply to passing cars, buses and HGVs.
- Competition is good.
Where there is competition in the private sector to operate services, managed competition, allowing more than one operator can stimulate competition and encourage operators to innovate to attract users.
Competition should be considered in terms of the size of the geographic location, so as not to introduce too many options for users and diminish the usability of schemes and availability of vehicles.
Want to learn more? I will be chairing the 'Shared Mobility' session on the second day of Landor’s Future Transport Forum 2022 which is co-sponsored by Steer, in Portsmouth on the 14th and 15th September. 2022. Book your tickets, meet the speakers, and learn more about the Forum.