Shared mobility: the “Rosetta stone” for rural areas proudly presented the Share North project at WOCOMOCO 2017 in Berlin. This World Conference on Collaborative Mobility is all about shared mobility as is the Share North project. Talking in a break out session concerning shared mobility options for rural areas, again was proven Share North is necessaire and makes a difference. This is also why I write this article. To spread the word, to give tips and tricks and to show shared mobility is not just a hype. It is the essential element in the sustainable mobility solution of the future! - by Jeffrey Matthijs,

Talking about shared mobility, rural areas are often seen as problematic. People need a (or more) car(s) because public transport is not sufficient, distances are too big, there’s no viable business model in it and it rains all the time 😉 Those are just a few arguments sceptics tend to give. I do not agree and I will give some examples of how to make it work.

Local governments are in charge

Most important, local governments are the key players because they are in the driving seat on different important fields for installing shared mobility such as local policy - and decision making, shaping public space, setting up parking standards, … Moreover they have the ability to communicate directly with the inhabitants and potential users. So my dearest local governments don’t just like shared mobility but plan it! Make it for instance part of your sustainable urban mobility plans.

A local government can also share its own fleet with civilians. Especially outside office hours these cars are just being idle capacity. It makes sense to share them with inhabitants not only because it’s financial interesting but also because of the first public acquaintance with shared mobility and the ability to achieve social inclusion goals. With a social pricing system for instance it becomes possible to give lower incomes now and then access to a car and thus better social contacts or more changes to employment.

Small is beautiful: the "Heuvelland" case

Heuvelland (translation: Hill Country) isn’t really a country, not even a city but it is a small 1000 inhabitants village in Flanders, Belgium. An inspiring thing happened over there. A care centre, in cooperation with a carsharing provider (Partago), the local government and, is sharing two electrical cars with the neighbourhood. Moreover it is possible to make a reservation including a driver. So people without driver’s license, elderly people, etc. can use the innovative carsharing scheme. If we are talking about sustainable, inclusive and smart mobility on a local level, this is as far as I’m concerned one of the best examples. It’s proven to be successful and the care centre will duplicate in other cities. The same idea is being used to share wheelchair friendly cars (named the AVIRA-project) in several rural areas in Flanders. The beauty is that users are getting engaged to act as a volunteer driver for persons with reduced mobility.

Deciphering the rural mobility "Rosetta stone"

I could go on and on about the many innovative things that are happening in rural Flanders. For instance the more than 5.000 households that are sharing cars in little closed groups in a cost based system or the 40.000 elderly (in average age 80!) who can use a voluntary taxi service run by other seniors but for now I would like to end with some practical suggestions to make shared mobility the real Rosetta stone for rural areas:

  • Plan it! : Start with today situation and set ambitious, realistic targets with periodic milestones.
  • Start with sharing own fleet: Be a role model and give the good example.
  • Promote shared mobility in general: People often don’t know the many opportunities of shared mobility. I bet there is a solution in it for most of them.
  • Permanent promotion on every level: Shared mobility is relatively new. Promotion is much needed. Inform about shared mobility in general, to specific target groups, in specific areas, etc.. and most important communication needs to be repeated over and over again because starting to share is a mental process that takes some time.
  • Don’t focus on the first car: In the cities it’s rather easy to live without owning a car. In rural areas it’s more difficult. Not questioning the need to own a car in rural areas is giving you credibility because you are showing emphatic ability but do we need a second (or even a third) car? A shared mobility solution is often a good alternative for these cars.
  • Cooperate: Find the right partners: don’t try to find out the wheel again. Bringing together expertise is a good way to success.
  • Be creative: it’s all about idle capacity. Assets that are underused can be shared and used more effective. And remember the less mobile service or AVIRA, it’s not only about materials but also about human assets and/or spare time.
  • Be patient: This very important, don’t expect success from day one or even year one. Be persistent, repeat your actions and adapt if necessaire. You will find out, in the end you will succeed!
  • Remember the Hill Country case: if it works over there,… we can take it to the moon!


WOCOMOCO 2017 in Berlin