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Shared mobility: Why ‘they’ should all be sharing their cars

Consumers widely agree that shared mobility is the future, so why are so many unwilling to be the change they want to see?

Strategic Marketing Director for AI

Research Statistician at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab

Shared mobility: Why ‘they’ should all be sharing their cars

Strategic Marketing Director for AI

Research Statistician at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab

Strategic Marketing Director for AI

Contributor (+1)

Research Statistician at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab

When we started analyzing data for our report, Augmenting the daily commute, we expected around 20 percent of the respondents to show an interest in shared mobility concepts. By shared mobility, we referred to the shared use of a vehicle, bicycle or other transportation mode. This includes ride hailing, car sharing, bike sharing, peer-to-peer ride sharing, and other modes. We were surprised to see that more than half of consumers expect shared mobility services to grow within the next decade, and 27 percent even expect such services to be used as a regular commuting alternative by a large portion of city dwellers.

What will happen to shared mobility services in five years?

Figure 1: What will happen to shared mobility services in five years?

The top three reasons consumers believe shared mobility services will keep growing in their cities are:

  1. Congestion reduction: consumers believe these services will be promoted as a way to reduce traffic congestion in dense urban areas.
  2. Environmental efforts: consumers expect public authorities to promote the use of these services to reduce the impact on personal carbon footprints.
  3. Increased availability: there will simply be more offerings and vehicles available in the future, resulting in improved convenience and lower costs.

Perhaps the perceived convenience of car ownership has diminished in denser urban areas, primarily through the improved access to more reliable public transport, but also by the emergence of new shared mobility services. Consumers have adapted their behavior in line with these changes.

Nevertheless, a closer look at our data revealed a less rosy prospect. Only about 1 in 10 commuters are actually expecting to use ride-hailing or car-sharing services themselves. This reveals a rather selfish contradiction where most people expect shared mobility to increase in order to reduce congestion and carbon emissions but only a fraction would commit to sharing, since they don’t want to compromise their current level of comfort.

To put it bluntly, the thinking for 9 in 10 is that “they should all be sharing their cars, it is good for society. But I will still have my own car.”

How do consumers expect to commute in 5–10 years?

Figure 2: How do consumers expect to commute in 5–10 years?

The car ownership paradigm

Cars are parked for 95 percent of their lifetimes. That figure is used extensively to show how broken and inefficient the car ownership paradigm is. If we follow the same reasoning, imagine the idle time for everything we keep at home: the showerhead, highly unutilized. The screwdriver hidden at the bottom of a drawer, marginally used; you even bought another one thinking the old one had gone missing. The point is that consumers don’t see the idling capacity as a convincing-enough argument to trump convenience. One of the 30 commuters we interviewed in-depth made a crystal-clear remark:

“People will own cars just to know they are there when needed.”

Nonetheless, shared mobility could have immensely positive outcomes in terms of traffic flow and environmental sustainability, so it is worth pursuing on a societal level, but what would it take for more people to be willing to share?

Digital services usually benefit from targeting a tech-enthusiastic base in order to gather momentum in the market with new features, apps or products, and a similar strategy may be at play for shared mobility. However, when it comes to comprehensive city-wide mobility solutions, they should target and benefit the wider population. Otherwise, it is not possible to find synergies with public transport authorities that, as we have seen in recent years, can make or break the introduction of new mobility services.

Augmenting the daily commute

Read the full report

Read the report Augmenting the daily commute reflect on consumers’ opinions and habits that could be used to offer a more satisfactory commuting experience

The emergence of new transport-related technologies has the potential to make shared transport easier to develop and increase its accessibility. Ride-hailing services over the last decade have shown us that consumers are happy to use digital services to request and pay for these, but give us little indication regarding the willingness to share.

Anna Haupt, Vice President of Mobility Solutions, NEVS, says: “When shared rides meet customer expectations on privacy and personal safety, a new market will emerge between private cars and traditional public transport. 5G will play a key role to enable services and experiences that transform vehicles into more than just transport units.”

Who are the most car-dependent commuters and why would they share?

There seems to be consensus that millennials and Generation Z are no longer interested in car ownership. Maybe it’s true that they are more open to different solutions but, in the end, there is an innate need for transportation that must be fulfilled, and pragmatism takes over the daily decision making. For this reason, the generational argument could be an insight trap and, rather than placing all bets on a generational shift, it is worth considering the implications of different life stages. For example, no sharing or hailing service is convenient or affordable enough to make most parents believe that car ownership is irrelevant.

In fact, respondents who place more importance on owning a car in big cities are millennial parents, of which 76 percent say it is very important to own a car since it is the only way to coordinate the multiple schedules, chores and activities for the family. They face the difficult dilemma of balancing their environmental concerns with their daily parental duties without having a convincing or practical alternative to owning a car. The challenge is that, even if a car is considered a temporary solution, it easily turns permanent because people don’t want to go back to other transport modes once they get used to the comfort and convenience of owning a car that is always available.

Who thinks it’s important to own a car in big cities? Percentage of respondents who agree with the statement “Owning a car is very important for me.”

Figure 3: Who thinks it’s important to own a car in big cities? Percentage of respondents who agree with the statement “Owning a car is very important for me.”

As we mentioned in our previous blog on this topic, the car may be losing its relevance as a status symbol, but it is gaining relevance as a desired solution based on user experience, something that is increasingly reliant on digital features. If the largest group stating that car ownership is important is composed of parents, mobility services should mostly target families rather than individuals and the promotion of car sharing should address different types of trips rather than just the driver experience. Just imagine using a car-sharing service to go to swimming practice with two children under five years old – carrying backpacks, installing car seats for the kids and having to bring all those things to the car every single time.

Trends in ride-hailing and car-sharing app usage

We have shown consumers are interested in shared mobility services as they bring societal benefits, but this is not yet reflected in their usage patterns. Looking at the services and how they have been used reveals how varied the offerings for consumers still are. When we compare app usage data for car-sharing versus ride-hailing services, there is an immediate difference in the service offering landscape. Ride-hailing services are well known; many of them have a footprint in multiple markets and consumers easily recognize the brands. Competition is usually between two larger players in each market.

Ride-hailing app usage trends – UK, US and South Korea

Figure 4: Ride-hailing app usage trends – UK, US and South Korea

Ride-hailing app usage trends – UK, US and South Korea

  2019 2020
Monthly Average user sessions 17 14
Average session duration 58 seconds 59 seconds
Average monthly active users 55,836,078 38,166,524

Car sharing offers a completely different landscape, with smaller players that are country- or even city-limited. Some services are provided by traditional car companies, some are peer-to-peer services, while others are simply perceived as short-term car-rental services. The conditions also widely diverge since some can be parked anywhere in the city, while others have predetermined parking areas and most need to be picked up and returned to the same location. This makes the whole “car sharing” concept more difficult for consumers to comprehend and embrace.

Car-sharing app usage trends – Global

Figure 5: Car-sharing app usage trends – Global

Car-sharing app usage trends – Global

  2019 2020
Monthly average user sessions 18 16
Average session duration 53 seconds 58 seconds
Average monthly active users 529,937 345,131

From the usage behavior we can infer that ride-hailing services have reached a much larger active user base (seeing as Figure 4 on ride hailing only presents data for three markets, while Figure 5 on car sharing covers seven markets) but we can also see that the usage pattern is rather similar in terms of session duration and usage per month. For ride-hailing services, the brands might be different, but the customer experiences are quite similar. Car-sharing apps are, conversely, not only very fragmented but their usage patterns are also quite diverse, and users have to face a different learning process for each of these services. This makes it challenging to have a common understanding of what car sharing is.

Interestingly, both types of service experienced a 30 percent decrease in the number of active users between 2019 and 2020 during the  COVID-19 pandemic. However, the average monthly usage did not change significantly for the users who remained active during 2020. One can argue that those who are used to these services and still had to move around their cities continued to rely on them. It is true that fears of contagion have been a factor affecting the use of shared mobility services; but for many mass transport users, ride hailing is still perceived as a safer option with a lower risk of transmission.

Car sharing is still of strategic importance for the future of mobility

Consumers would like to see an uptake of shared mobility services in their cities, but the current offerings do not seem to be convincing enough to forgo owning a car and having the assurance of availability and convenience. Having a fragmented market and services that are not intrinsically designed for families makes car sharing a cumbersome transport option.

Car sharing is a key element of sustainable urban mobility that will most likely see its full potential with autonomous cars. In spite of the mounting challenges we have discussed, addressing the consumer-facing barriers early on is crucial to maximizing the future acceptance of autonomous cars in mass consumer markets. There are two areas where connectivity can directly improve these services.

Quick access on request is one of the highest demands from ride-hailing and car-sharing users. Here, car connectivity will bring the key benefit of improved traffic conditions. This can counterbalance the perceived loss of convenience that consumers expect when abandoning car ownership.

Secondly, service enjoyment has a significant effect on consumer acceptance of car sharing. Providers could elevate their offering by not simply trying to change the ownership scheme, but by providing unique entertainment and value-adding services designed for car sharing. For example, we asked consumers about having the possibility to configure user profiles with preferences on lights, seat configuration, music and common routes, and bring these to any car or vehicle used. Connected cars can automatically download and activate the profiles so the car feels familiar to passengers and drivers. Fifty-eight percent of office workers with children expressed being highly interested in this feature.

Another example of a value-adding service is in-vehicle continual connectivity, where a robust and consistent internet connection is provided to all passengers. Options could be synced with entertainment services to avoid disruption, and the car could even suggest alternative routes to avoid lags along the way. Sixty-four percent of office workers with children are highly interested in this feature.

These additional features are relevant to both car manufacturers and communications service providers. According to our 5G consumer potential report, 5G is likely to unlock new revenues for service providers, as their ownership of connectivity will support revenues of around USD 8 billion in the connected car segment by 2030.

Find out more

To learn more about what people want in order to increase their commuting satisfaction, and the role connected technology will play, read our report: Augmenting the Daily Commute.

Explore the interactive Connected Commuter Dashboard to discover more of our extensive consumer research, representative of 130 million smartphone users worldwide.

Read our blog post, How tech can help us create a better world: a fresh perspective.

Connect with Andres on LinkedIn.


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