Sharing the steering wheel

Sharing the steering wheel
Photo: DPA
Germany might be a car-crazy country, but it can also be a prohibitively expensive place to have your own ride. Rhea Wessel reports on the growing interest in car-sharing services.

Faced with a daily commute from Heidelberg to Bensheim, Ana Isabel Eichel opted for culture over a larger carbon footprint.

Although the young employee of a communications consulting company prefers city living, Eichel still wanted access to a car so that she could enjoy hikes in the nearby woods and have the ability to transport a piece of furniture or a large amount of groceries on occasion.

But she calculated it would cost her roughly €400 to €500 a month to own and operate her own car, leading her to spend a bit more on an apartment that was close to the city centre and join a car-sharing scheme. By doing so, she now lives within walking or biking distance to the Heidelberg’s cultural offerings while helping eliminate the carbon emissions from her 70-kilometre commute.

Germany’s well-developed urban public transport networks are enabling more people like Eichel to make car sharing a permanent part of their personal mobility.

“We are working to gain access to more parking spaces in central locations to meet the growing demand for car sharing,” Willi Loose, the head of the Federal Association of Car Sharing, told The Local.

According to his umbrella organisation, some 150,000 people in Germany belong to car-sharing programmes that make 4,500 vehicles available for short-term rentals, such as one hour or one day. Such types of car hire usual require membership, and hourly fees cover petrol costs, a certain number of kilometers and insurance. Drivers have the benefit of easy access to a car without bearing the cost for owning, parking and repairing the vehicle.

Loose says car sharing could be of interest up to two million people in Germany, if the numbers in neighbouring Switzerland are any indication. The small Alpine country was one of the first places to experiment with car sharing, and it remains quite popular there.

But a lack of parking spaces in major German city centres is holding back the expansion of car sharing, Loose believes. In addition, Loose says car sharing is not on the agenda for most politicians: “They give lip service to the idea but don’t do much more.”

Still, that’s not slowing the ever growing number of car-sharing offerings.

Some of the larger operators include Stadtmobil in Berlin, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, as well as several other locations; cambio CarSharing in Aachen, Berlin, Bielefeld, Bremen, Hamburg and Cologne; Greenwheels in Berlin, Braunschweig, Chemnitz, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Jena, Nuremberg and Rostock; and Deutsche Bahn’s subsidiary DB Carsharing, available in about 100 cities across the country.

Originally designed for individuals, many companies are also using specially designed car-sharing services as well. According to Loose, some 25 percent of car sharing is now for business.

Veteran user Eichel revealed a few tips to The Local about how to make car sharing work best. She recommends booking early, even though car-sharing services are typically designed so that drivers order cars at the spur of the moment for short trips.

There’s never a guarantee that a car will be available when a driver wants it, but Eichel has never once gone without when she wanted one.

Often, members book online and can easily reserve vehicles with a few clicks of the mouse 24-hours a day. Eichel uses the Stadtmobil website to book cars at any of the three vehicle stations that are close to her home. She chooses the station based on where she’s headed and which cars are available.

In addition, drivers should be wary that it’s easy to underestimate the time you’ll need a vehicle. To keep yourself from having to watch the clock when you’re out with a car, book the vehicle one hour longer than you expect to need it.

“Although you pay by the hour, you shouldn’t always worry if you’re paying a few euros more or less,” said Eichel. “You’re saving anyway compared to the cost of owning a car.”

If you are interested in car sharing, the best way to select a service provider is to scout for parking spaces close to the place you’ll be renting from, such as your home. Also be sure to see what types of vehicles various companies offer close by.

And if there’s no station where you need one, don’t be shy about asking a car-sharing company to set one up. Being proactive is the best way to drive growing demand for car sharing.

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