A step into the future: 5 lessons learned from our visit to Bergen

Auteur: Bram Seeuws

Gepubliceerd op 2 november 2021

Between September 29th and October 1st, Autodelen.net – together with Mpact vzw, Mobipunt vzw, POLIS, The City of Bergen and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – hosted the eHUBS International Academy in Bergen (Norway). This city can be seen as a lighthouse city in Europe on (electric) shared mobility. As Policy Coordinator for Autodelen.net it was an honour to visit this city for the 3rd time and  learn new things. I would like to share 5 lessons learned from this trip to the future.

1. E-Scooters, e-scooters and e-scooters…

Since my last visit to Bergen (May 2019) the city has changed dramatically. Last year, a number of shared e-scooter companies entered the Norwegian market. This resulted in an enormous increase of shared e-scooters in Bergen. As a consequence, Bergen now has the highest number of e-scooters per 10.000 inhabitants in Europe with a total number of around 8500. This makes 309 shared e-scooters per 10.000 inhabitants (Norway Today, 2021). 

e-scooters
Dedicated parking zones for e-scooters (source: Lars Ove Kvalbein - City of Bergen)

Although this is a very high number, the nuisance of these new micromobility services (which we see in some cities) is rather low. The reasons for this are diverse. Firstly, the city uses dedicated parking zones and parking racks in the inner parts of the city. Secondly, they cooperate closely with all operators. This cooperation resulted in the creation of a digital platform created by Norwegian start-up Nivel working with the MDS-standard (Mobility Data Specification). This platform ensures an automatic data flow between the city and all providers and gives the city the power to direct the usage by for example implementing low-speed zones, no-go zones, etc. The dashboard is also linked to a hotline that can be used by inhabitants to indicate that a scooter is parked incorrectly. These complaints will then automatically be forwarded to the specific operator.

Despite all of these innovations some questions on the impact and safety of these shared e-scooters arose during the academy. At this moment, due to a decrease of usage of the bikesharing scheme, it seems like it replaces mainly other sustainable modes of transport which is not the prefered modal shift we want. Thus, further research is necessary.

Shared mobility as part of a broader sustainable mobility policy

What became again clear in Bergen is that shared mobility does not stand on its own. Shared mobility is an essential link in sustainable mobility and only works optimally with a good flanking and horizontal policy. 

The City of Bergen specifically discourages car trips and car ownership with the following measures:

  • A toll ring around the city
  • Expensive parking permits
  • Building cycling infrastructure
  • Piloting with car-free streets
Toll ring in Bergen with prices fluctuating

The private cars that are still welcome in Bergen should preferably be battery electric operated. For this electrification, Bergen can surf along with the tax benefits Norwegians receive for the purchase of an electric vehicle (EV). Conventional cars are heavily taxed which ensures that EV’s are in most of the cases the cheapest option. Furthermore, in the coming years Bergen will install the first zero-emission zones in the inner city. All of this results in nearly 40% battery electric cars in the city, a number that you literally can (not) smell and hear.   

Redesign of a street in Bergen. Cars made way for bicycle parking, waste collecting systems and shared bicycles. The shared cars are at the entrance of the street (source: Google Maps)

Nearly no on-street charging infrastructure

Given the high number of electric vehicles in the city you would expect a lot of on-street charging infrastructure. However, the opposite is true: Bergen has nearly no on-street charging stations. The biggest charging clusters are located on the mobility hubs and are (mainly) reserved for carsharing. These charging stations have a power of 9kW. Most of the charging options are:

  • Off-street in parking garages. A good example is the biggest private parking garage in the city (Bygarasjen, above the biggest public transport hub) which has around 80 charging stations (of which 32 are reserved for carsharing). 
  • Via fast or ultrafast charging hubs. The city has many fast and/or ultrafast charging stations located at gas stations or mobility hubs. Some of these stations go up to 20 ultrafast chargers. 
  • At home for people who live in the suburbs of the city.

It was absolutely inspiring to see how Bergen is dealing with the increased demand for charging. In the light of the ambition of the Flemish region and many Belgian cities on electrification we should think whether we want to fill our cities and streets with thousands of charging stations. Bergen shows the opposite. 

On-street charging stations for carsharing and private cars at a mobility hub
Off-street charging stations at Bygarasjen for both private and shared cars
20 fast charging stations (80kW) at Danmarksplass hurtigladestasjon (Source: Google maps)

E-carsharing equals conventional carsharing

Until today, many roundtrip carshare operators in Europe prefer to work with dedicated charging stations. That way, customers are sure to start the trip with sufficient battery capacity. Roundtrip operators in Bergen such as Hyre and Bildeleringen follow the same path. However, at one of the newest mobility hubs in Bergen an interesting pilot case happened. Due to a construction error the charging stations for carsharing were not working yet. Bildeleringen however decided to give it a shot anyway and placed four e-cars at the hub without a single working charging station. Customers have to bring the car back with at least ¼ battery capacity left – the same procedure as with fossil fuel cars. Bilderlingen saw no difference in user take up and -experience compared to other shared e-cars with dedicated charging stations. Most of the customers used the fast charging facilities to ensure enough power for the next user. 

Although some of the homezone-based and free-floating operators in Belgium do not work with dedicated stations, the case of Bildeleringen shows that in the long term one shared car per charging station will not be needed anymore. An important footnote however is that e-driving should be mainstream (which is not the case yet in Belgium). 

First sharing, than electric

Although there is a great amount of e-cars in Norway, the number of e-cars within the carsharing fleet in Bergen is not much higher than Belgium (see our 2020 report). The reasons for that are divers. On the one hand, the number of shared e-cars is following the same trend as the private fleet – and there is nothing wrong with that. The City does not push operators to a rapid electrification (although some of the new operators are 100% electric). The operators offer a tailor made solution for all of their customers. The electrification of the carshare fleet in Bergen is thus mainly demand-driven. From the point of view of carsharing this is a good thing. It ensures a smooth transition that keeps all current carsharers on board. The last thing we want is that customers buy a (new) car because of this rapid electrification. Carsharing itself – whether it is electric or not – does already have an impact.

The philosophy and strategy Bergen is following makes us think about what we want as a city (in Belgium). Electrification of the carshare fleet should follow the same rules as the private car market. After all, sharing should always be above electrification. 

 Do you want to know more about the eHUBS-project or the eHUBS-academy in Bergen? Please take a look here.