Young urban Swiss catch the car-sharing bug
A Swiss cooperative that allows members to share cars is shifting into high gear.
The Mobility Group – Switzerland’s only nationwide car-sharing business — has just reported a further rise in membership last year to over 120,000 customers.
Since the cooperative’s start-up in 1997, red Mobility cars and vans have been an increasingly common sight on Swiss roads and at parking lots of railway stations across the country. As of the end of last year there were 2,700 red Mobility vehicles available at 1,400 pick-up points.
The environmental association VCS/ATE notes there has also been a rapid development in private and company car pools in recent years, as the costs and environmental considerations connected with auto ownership weigh more heavily on road users.
Yet road vehicle ownership is not declining. There were 4.4 million registered cars in Switzerland in 2014, and figures show a steady rise in the number of private vehicles since 1990.
A contradiction? Not according to Stephan Müller, media spokesman for the Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS).
“In recent years the Swiss population has been growing by over 80,000 persons a year,” Müller tells The Local.
“Consequently, mobility needs have increased,” he says.
“The growth in demand for the services of Mobility is a reflection of our ‘multi-option society’,” Müller says.
“People on the move consider it natural that they should be able to use the transport means of their choice, whether that is a private car, public transport or a Mobility vehicle.”
Freedom and flexibility
Increasingly, that choice is Mobility. With 120,300 customers, the number using its services is now virtually equivalent to the population of Bern.
This level of market penetration means Mobility is considered the most successful car sharing business worldwide, according to a study commissioned by the TCS transport think-tank, Mobility Academy (no connection to the cooperative).
Mobility believes the recipe for its success is that it offers people freedom – from the costs and obligations of owning their own vehicle, and to travel as and when they want.
“The average private car in Switzerland isn’t used for 23 out of 24 hours, yet it is a constant money-guzzler,” says Patrick Eigenmann, spokesman for the cooperative.
“With Mobility, on the other hand, people only pay for their actual journeys, since our system is based on hourly and kilometre tariffs,” Eigenmann says. “A combination of Mobility and public transport saves 4,000 francs ($4,157) a year compared to running a car,” he says.
“There’s also the fact that with car sharing you can travel at any time and don’t have to worry about parking places, insurance or servicing. More and more people appreciate this freedom.”
The availability of Mobility cars at railway stations across the country is another draw. Thanks to a deal between Swiss Federal Railways, SBB, and the car sharing company, holders of an SBB general or half-price travel card qualify for Mobility personal annual membership at a reduced rate – 190 instead of 290 francs.
Young, urban, mobile
Mobility drivers are urban, with around half living in one of the eight biggest Swiss cities. Aged 18 to 50, the typical customer is “highly mobile but not hung up on cars”, according to Eigenmann.
Mobility sees further potential in this young, urban market.
It offers discounts for students and special deals for learner drivers, and is planning to expand its number of locations and range of cars in cities.
Bettina Foord and her husband Daniel fit the Mobility mould. Living in Bern, they have been members for three years. They book a car irregularly – up to ten times a month – mainly for round trips of no more than 50 kilomewtres.
When the children were small they would rent an estate car. Now they are bigger, the family squeezes into a cheaper, small car.
“The trips we make normally cost us between 28 to 60 francs,” explains Foord.
“For longer distances or periods of time we tend to use my Dad’s or sister’s car, as it’s cheaper,” she says.
“We think Mobility is great – it really helps us avoid having a car.”
For many customers the big appeal of car-sharing is its sustainability, says Eigenmann.
The environmental association VCS is trying to encourage this attitude in political and planning decisions with its “car-free living” project, which represents the interests of the 20 percent of Swiss residents who don’t own their own car.
“People without their own car will use public transport, cycle or walk,” project leader Samuel Bernhard tells The Local.
“On average they use one-third the amount of energy that car owners do,” Bernhard says.
“Car-free living works, it creates space, saves money, and it’s a current trend.”
For more information about Mobility in English, check here.