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Imagine a future neighborhood, I don't tell you what year. On the one hand, people with helmets cross a cycle path on two wheels: some deliver flowers (or are sandwiches, I can't see well), others go to work in their shirts, with their jackets in the basket in front. On the other side of the street the tables of the restaurants on a wide sidewalk. In between, a lane dedicated to cars: almost all electric taxis that go back and forth, and a bus that every 10 minutes connects the neighborhood with similar ones throughout the city. Cars parked on the street? Zero.
This could be the neighborhood of the not too distant future if we tackle an important and unresolved question: the space we waste on individual vehicles. There are about a billion cars in the world: nearly 300 million in the US alone, slightly less in Europe. In Italy there are 37 million, one for every 1,65 inhabitants. 95% of the time, the average car remains unused in a garage, driveway, or on the sidewalk on the street.
It is not only an economic disaster (cars are among the most expensive things people own) but it is also a gigantic waste of space, to the detriment of the quality of life and the planet.
An alternative? To share. REALLY.
Over the past few decades, private companies providing public transport to customers have grown. People can now open an app, approach a parked vehicle, unlock it with their phone, and pay only for the time spent driving. The car sharing we know today will not solve the problem of climate change or make cities more liveable, but it could take us to the next level.
One day there will be more car sharing cars in cities than car owners. It will take some time, sure, but mostly it will take bold political changes and disincentives to the private car.
A service, not a good
Today cars are a necessary element in the daily life of many people in the world: they are joy and pain, they offer comfort but they also become a condemnation for expenses and the difficulties of parking in crowded places. The car sharing of the future will only take the positives, completely eliminating the disadvantages. And it will change the face of the context in which we live.
We will integrate car sharing into an otherwise car-free life. Depending on the day, we will walk or use public transport, ride a bicycle or scooter, or hail a taxi to go where we need it.
It is the promise of a sharing economy based on services, not goods. If one (expensive) car can be shared among many, it stops being a product, and becomes a service. It doesn't matter what it is anymore: it matters what it does.
The subscription economy is not a trend destined to change. Car sharing companies continue to grow strongly. A survey promoted by Turo, one of the operators in the sector, shows that 13% of its current customers do not have a car, and 17% do not plan to buy one in the next 5 years.
Car sharing: we are in full take-off
The pandemic, I will never tire of repeating it, has accelerated many trends, and has laid bare some basic needs that were being crushed by our daily lives. One above all is the need to move "lightly". New business models and new needs to reconcile life, travel and work.
Within the 2040 a research by BloombergNEF predicts there will be over 70 million shared vehicles in the US. It's only the beginning.
Operators such as Zipcar, Getaround, Turo, Car2Go, Ubeequo and others overlap in the cities of the planet and in areas with high population density. Cities are the battleground, where traffic and population nodes are all coming to a head.
The showdown is approaching: from there, the road will be all downhill.
Hopefully also for the environment: the environmental benefits of car sharing are much greater than the simple reduction of harmful emissions from cars.
Increasing the use of public transport to decarbonise the transport sector in general is a frequent point of discussion among environmentalists. The transport industry is by far one of the largest sources of emissions: moving away from a culture centered on cars (yes, even electric ones) has enormous consequences.
Car sharing will be the gateway to future mobility.
The transformation of cities
Public transport users produce less traffic, and the reduction in parking spaces leads to further optimization of the construction in historic centers. All that space left free by parking is transformed into restaurants, services, offices, including public ones. The result? Even less use of the car. In other words, car sharing has the potential to start a virtuous circle.
After all, what's wrong with a city where you have more opportunities for entertainment, shopping and dining?
The examples are already many, from plan veil of Paris ai "Superblocks" in Spain, passing through the kilometers and kilometers of streets returned to pedestrians in Seattle. We can seriously start it all by discouraging people from owning private cars, and by encouraging the use of car sharing.
Three moves, but radical: a, skyrocketing parking prices with revenues poured into public transport. Due, a lane dedicated to car sharing and electric vehicles. Three, all kinds of incentives for multimodal transport.
Things? Basically the Netflix of travel. Subscription services (such as that of the Finnish startup MaaS Global) offer access to buses, trains, taxis, bikes and cars in car sharing for a fixed monthly fee. Bingo.
How far away is this future?
The limit is political and cultural, as often happens. For many people, even the simple fact of owning a car is still too high a value, even if you don't use it. It's a snake biting its own tail: car sharing will improve cities, but as long as the cities are so badly done there are authentic urban "deserts" far from the center and poorly served by public transport.
For those who live there and go to work there is no alternative to the car: imagine people like this, already forced to waste two hours in traffic every day, also affected by an increase in parking spaces.
However, things will change quickly.
For Generation Z the notion of ownership is not as important as for us previous generations. Whether it's a house or music or clothes or cars, they live at ease in an economy in which one really aims to "own" only one thing, the most important of all: one's time.
Well, it will be the Generation Z that will decree the end of the myth of the car owned. Of the "ritual" transition to adulthood with the first car. Of the obsession with using a car even to go to the nearby newsagent. I can't tell you the year, but certainly those born between 1995 and 2010 will live in one of those neighborhoods I described to you at the beginning.
And maybe they will be a little happier.