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Floating freely through the town

Free-floating, in other words mobility services without fixed stations, is on the up around the world. Mobility also offers cars and electric scooters in Swiss cities. But does free-floating reduce traffic? And are there already too many of these vehicles?

Dash through town quickly and flexibly. Free-floating is booming around the world.

You search for them and book them on the spot, driving on a minute basis. And at the end of the journey you simply leave them in public zones. This is what the concept of free-floating vehicles is all about. From cars and bikes to scooters or kick scooters, free-floating vehicles are taking over roads around the globe.

Free-floating is a sign of the growing mobility-sharing world. In Germany, for example, there are now 2.5 million active carsharers – around three times as many as there were a few years ago. At the same time, the number of providers has leapt up to 180. While smaller companies often opt for station-based models, large ones such as ShareNow (Daimler/BMW) are driving free-floating forward. Michael Gander, Head of Corporate Development at Mobility, is not surprised by this: "Free-floating works well if vehicles are always within walking distance. To offer this, you of course need to have the right quantity of them." Last year, for example, Zipcar placed 700 VWs in London in one go. "This means that only companies with a certain amount of vigour enter this market," says Gander knowingly.

"Free-floating offers wonderful opportunities for linking services up with other modes of transport. I am therefore convinced that all manner of offers combining different services will be available very soon."

Thomas Sauter-Servaes, traffic expert at ZHAW School of Engineering

Zurich – the unrivalled sharing stronghold
Mobility is the only provider in Switzerland to date, with 130 Mobility Go cars available in Basel and 100 in Geneva as well as 200 electric scooters in Zurich. Nevertheless, the competition is growing in the form of free-floating bikes or kick scooters. As a result, the ZHAW Shared Mobility study revealed Limmatstadt to have 6.6 sharing vehicles per 1’000 residents, leaving other major cities such as Berlin (5), London (2.1) and Vienna (0.9) considerably behind. Some providers inevitably fell by the wayside. For example, the Singapore-based company O-Bike, which flooded Zurich with cheap yellow and grey bikes in no time at all, has already had to file for bankruptcy. "A major experiment is currently underway in Swiss cities," as Thomas Sauter-Servaes, traffic expert at ZHAW School of Engineering, has observed. "Not all ideas will survive. But I am convinced that all manner of offers combining different services will be available very soon, which will not only replace people’s own cars, but will also be fun, help protect the environment and support our health." In his opinion, the issue of whether station-based or free-floating sharing services will be more successful is irrelevant. "It is not a case of either-or, but rather one of both this and that." Michael Gander had the same thought: "The main thing is that more and more people are sharing vehicles rather than owning them. This is why we at Mobility offer all manner of different models from a single source."

Disputable approach
The crucial question remains: can free-floating carsharing reduce traffic? From Mobility’s station-based service, we know that one carsharing car replaces ten privately owned ones. This is because, after joining, people use mobility more consciously and often do without a first or second car. According to ETH, the quota for Catch a Car – the predecessor of Mobility Go – stands at one to four. This ratio looks set to be on the up with the integration into the Mobility world. Figures are different in Germany, where the urban dimensions are larger and public transport is designed differently. A study carried out by Bundesverband CarSharing shows that there are 485 private cars for every 1’000 free-floating customers – four times as many as with station-based carsharing. Providers who offer both models come out on top (104 private cars per 1’000 customers). Incidentally, Car2Go and Drive Now (now ShareNow) disputed these findings, claiming that their customer surveys yielded better results.

The sharing world is moving faster and faster
One thing is clear: mobility is changing rapidly. From self-driving cars to drone taxis, all manner of new technologies are in the pipeline. For Mobility, it is worth setting the right priorities and operating in a sustainable way. Even when it comes to free-floating, the company first wants to get the service up and running efficiently in Zurich, Basel and Geneva. "After that, we will decide which other cities could be considered for Mobility Go," concludes Gander.