Qualitative analysis of users’ needs

How can we better understand car-sharing users and their needs? How can car-sharing providers create a profitable business model? What role should the authorities have in promoting and penalizing shared-mobility service? These are just some of the questions that the SHARE-MORE project aims to answer. In this article, we present data and analysis from our qualitative study. Focus groups have been used to understand how users perceive the car-sharing system in Copenhagen, Munich, and Tel-Aviv Yafo. Interviews with public authorities, service providers, experts, and consumer/environmental organizations have been carried on to understand challenges and opportunities for the car-sharing market. With a database of over 20 interviews across three cities, we can compare their responses to see if car-sharing can become profitable and at the same help reducing the carbon footprint in dense urban environments.

Users’ needs and potential incentives

An in-depth analysis of the data suggests that car-sharing services are currently not able to replace the need for a private vehicle. As expected, the analysis shows that the decision to choose car-sharing over a private car is mostly – but not entirely – an economical decision. For some users, giving up on the car means giving up on performing certain activities, as car-sharing is simply not perceived as a valid alternative. Another observation is that these needs change significantly from individual to individual. For some users, the possibility to have a shared-car over the weekend is the most important aspect, while for others instant availability is more critical.

The car-sharing eco-systems present another level of inherent complexity for the user. Free-floating and station-based systems operate differently, attract different users, and need different types of incentives. Thus, users who are better at planning often rely almost uniquely on station-based systems, while flexible users mostly adopt free-floating services. Yet, there is a large pool of users in the middle that need to be addressed. Personalised incentives present the only viable solution to satisfy all needs. As personalization may increase the otherwise complex system, care should be taken to select solutions that will not confuse the user further and deter carsharing use. A second element, closely aligned to the first one, is that car-sharing is not sufficiently integrated with other mobility services. As such, it represents at most a poor replacement for the private car. Integration brings the added value of other mobility services, such as public transport, e-scooters, taxis, and bike-sharing, into the car-sharing model, making all services more attractive. Together with the concept of tailor-made mobility offers already introduced, this opportunity is perceived as the main way to promote car-sharing and fight car-ownership.

Stakeholders needs – Direct and indirect incentives

When it comes to incentives, respondents separated them into two main categories – direct and indirect incentives. Direct incentives directly reduce operator costs (reducing the parking cost is one example of a direct incentive), while indirect incentives, as the name suggests, consist of introducing elements, such as mobility stations, that modify the existing transport offer in favour of car-sharing. As expected, pricing policies, car availability, availability of a parking lot at the destination, fleet diversity, and coverage area emerged as some of the main direct incentives. Considering indirect incentives,  the three most popular forms identified by the respondents are incentives for the integration with other transport modes, marketing and communication strategies to increase awareness, and incentives for promoting electrification and emission-free fleets.

Policy recommendations to achieve transport equity

In a completely unregulated market, without any form of incentive, equity is not likely to happen. Car-sharing works best in highly populated, more prosperous areas and not all parts of the city are equally profitable. It is almost impossible to expect a similar level of services in both the city centre and the suburbs – not to mention rural areas. While equal access to carsharing is not necessarily a goal that should be pursued, our analysis shows that carsharing can support equity if used in areas where mass-transit is inefficient. Based on the results of our analysis, it emerges that incentives, and in particular financial incentives, should mostly be used to support this goal when applicable, resulting in an alignment of public and private objectives. As to environmental sustainability, when users use car sharing, their impact on congestion, pollution, as well as their occupancy (in terms of infrastructure) is potentially the same as for any private vehicle.