“A cargo bicycle can make a whole family change their mobility behaviour”
Here’s what the independent expert says: ETH mobility lecturer Dr Peter de Haan talks in an interview about the means of transport of the future, the opportunities and risks of carvelo2go’s expansion phase and a distorted market in which innovative start-ups and projects urgently need the support of sponsors.
Mr de Haan, why don’t you give us a look into a possible future: How will we move in Switzerland in 2040?
Apart from the fact that we Swiss will probably continue to be world champions in frequent flying, we will – and I am quite critical of this – shift our ecological footprint abroad even more and in return will nurture, care for and decarbonise our Heidiland. But let’s concentrate on the positive side: electromobility will become widely accepted. In 20 years, two out of three new cars will be electric, a rate that will be even faster for city buses. Most delivery vans will also be powered by electricity, simply because the maintenance of electric vehicles is up to 60% cheaper. However, the truck that transports goods from Genoa to Hamburg will probably continue to run on diesel or biofuel for much longer.
Dr Peter de Haan is a lecturer at ETH Zurich for MAS and CAS courses on the mobility of the future and new business models, and is a partner at the international consulting firm EBP, which is committed to the environmentally sound management of our living space. As an independent expert, he gave us his assessment of Switzerland’s mobility context and our pioneering project carvelo2go in an interview.
Does Switzerland even have a master plan for future mobility?
There is certainly a gap where national targets need to be implemented within a local context. While national cycle routes are being established abroad, in Switzerland this usually fails at municipal borders. Germany already has cycle path crossings and fast cycle paths have priority – there is no such thing here. We definitely have to show more courage in cities, e.g. in the design and planning of former industrial sites and housing estates. From your front door, public transport stops and car & bike sharing stations should be closest, with your own car in the neighbourhood car park the longest way away.
Do you think cars will remain our main means of transport?
With up to 10 million inhabitants by 2040, we will live in an even more urban Switzerland. City centres will be more densely populated, which is why more and more people will no longer own their own cars. On the one hand, because the sharing offering, i.e. the sharing of vehicles, will be even more developed by then. On the other, because there will simply not be enough parking spaces. However, we will continue to have inefficient mobility in urban and rural areas in terms of the use of space, and our own car will remain one of the most important modes of transport. As long as the state continues to expand the road network and prescribe the construction of further parking spaces, private motorised transport will remain cheap.
What kind of role can cargo bicycles play within this construct?
Cargo bikes are currently a niche product, but they can make a whole family change their mobility behaviour and renounce their own car. At least for a certain time and phase in life. For many people, their weekly shopping or trip to the garden and DIY centre at the edge of town is the main reason for owning a car. A cargo bicycle can be a good solution in precisely such cases.
carvelo2go offers cargo bike sharing. What is the advantage of collaborative use?
It avoids the obstacle of the relatively high purchase price – which is still around 5,000 francs and more. Above all, however, the cargo bike doesn’t stand idle; you can make optimum use of it. And: the sharing project creates visibility and may inspire some to buy their own cargo bike. The distribution of the sharing network is central: its attractiveness decreases with every metre of distance that needs to be travelled to a collection station. But with 200 locations in 40 cities and communities, carvelo2go is on the right track.
“We need to clearly prioritise public transport and cycling in cities.”
Across Switzerland, 8000 users are taking advantage of the carvelo2go offering. How do you assess the relevance of the project?
If we as a society want to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2030, we have to considerably change our daily mobility behaviour. This means that in cities, we clearly need to prioritise public transport and bicycles, and ban cars from the core zone – unless they are shared. Cargo bikes can make a contribution here. Today carvelo2go is still a rather small lighthouse project, but the occupancy rate with an average of 10 rentals per bike per month is good. I wouldn’t expect a cargo bike to be used much more than that – you only have to clearly do better than all the private cars that sit around unused 23 hours a day on 13 m2 parking spaces.
Does a sharing project like carvelo2go work especially well within an urban context?
In Switzerland, we often divide things too stereotypically into city and country. Zurich is also very rural and in communities like Wetzikon there are many urban people who commute daily. I would say that the probability of use depends more on demographic conditions and social classes. Every town with 10,000 or more inhabitants has the potential to make use of such an offering.
Bellinzona, Bulle, Fribourg, Aarau, Thun and Steinhausen: many want to offer carvelo2go in their communities and help with the project’s introduction. Are you surprised by this commitment?
No. Many municipalities and cities want to be awarded the “Energy City” label for environmentally friendly energy policies and are looking for measures to become more sustainable, particularly with regard to mobility. Projects like carvelo2go are very helpful for them to position themselves. However, for carvelo2go, the mere promise of a partnership with a municipality does not automatically mean that the bikes will be used at high capacity. During a second, fast-growing phase, the project must therefore ensure that these cooperations are really sustainable in the long term.
How important are the "hosts" in the sharing concept of carvelo2go – i.e. the cafés and shops from which you pick up and return the cargo bicycles?
For the user, the focus is on the offering itself: local distribution within the neighbourhood and convenient online booking. Whether they get the key from a pharmacist or a restaurateur is really secondary; the community aspect is perhaps a pleasant side effect. For the project, the host concept reduces operating costs, making the project economically feasible in the first place. In addition, the hosts take care of the delicate and expensive vehicles, which guarantees the quality of the offering.
If you rent a carvelo2go, you pay a basic fee of five francs and then two francs per hour. As a subscriber it is 90 francs a year, but all other prices are halved. Does such pricing makes sense?
In general, we in mobility have the problem that people cannot and do not want to do the math. Otherwise they would notice how expensive their car really is, with insurance and maintenance costs as well as taxes. For this reason, sharing projects that have to shift all costs to a price-per-use scheme tend to have a hard time. As an expert, I would recommend that all providers develop a flat rate after an initial pioneering phase to address further market segments. The heavy user needs to be separated from the rest – for example through a flat rate with a maximum use limit. A new mobility offering is currently being launched in Lausanne and Geneva, where you can buy points in addition to your normal local public transport pass. These points can be used for car sharing, bike sharing or taxis. I think that corresponds to what people need – and it allows the provider to calculate an upper limit.
“If mobility with private cars remains so cheap, sharing models will have a hard time.”
How important is it for development funds, investors and large companies to support innovative mobility projects?
Very very important! With regard to mobility, the market is distorted because, in particular, motorised private transport results in high external costs that must be borne not by the polluter but by the general public. At the same time, the state supports public transport. Tax-financed road construction is supplemented by mandatory parking spaces for construction projects. 200 new spaces are made available in Switzerland every day. That’s unbelievable. Within this subsidised competition, asserting yourself with new, innovative offerings is a challenge. Start-ups therefore need help – from large companies like Migros. But actually also from the state, in the form of better framework conditions. Because that is my great fear: if mobility with the private car remains so cheap, all the beautiful sharing models will have a hard time in the long run.