Building Better Cities with Car Free Days

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Carsharing, Shared Mobility


The second part of this two-part series highlights how mandating car free days helps people understand the value of less congestion, while also building social validation that shared mobility is a viable source for alternative transportation options.

In the last post, we talked about shared mobility’s impact on building better cities. Since carsharing vehicles are proven to take vehicles off the road, the area can subsequently be freed up for better pedestrian accessibility and public community spaces. This approach contributes to better cities by making it more livable for everyone. Increased accessibility opens up opportunities to bring people together, creating more inclusive communities.
In the last part of our series, we will focus on using initiatives to shift people’s behaviour and attitude away from private vehicles and towards alternative transportation options instead. Specifically, we will highlight the impact car free day initiatives can have on individuals and the environment.
pedestrians walking city
Car Free Days
The purpose of car free days started back in 1956, when countries were facing oil shortages during the Suez Crisis. Governments mandated vehicles to not be used on certain days in an attempt to ration the supply of oil. Throughout the years car free days were mandated in the same vein to manage supply, but has more recently focused on managing the demand of private vehicle use instead.
Every year on September 22, cities around the world go car free. Paris blocks off major intersections for pedestrians only and Singapore creates incentives for going car free on a weekly basis. By going car free, locals and tourists alike can enjoy popular streets on foot at their leisure without any worry about road congestion and pollution.
In general, the goal of these initiatives is to highlight the ease of enjoying a city without relying on private vehicles. Similarly, it is another opportunity to empower people to reduce congestion, reduce pollution, and improve the livability of cities. The more people are aware of their carbon footprint, the greater the chance cities have to collectively gain buy-in from people to shift away from relying on personal vehicles.  

Instead, people are encouraged to use alternative transportation options, which has traditionally involved walking, biking, and public transportation. As of recently, shared mobility has also been added to the mix. From carsharing to ridesharing, these options can provide first and last mile options to supplement the distance where walking and public transportation is less feasible.

public transport urban area
Shared Mobility
While some may argue that using carsharing is counterintuitive to the notion of not relying on vehicles, what carsharing does is highlight the actual costs of vehicle ownership. The pay-per-use model used by shared mobility operators reflect the true cost of vehicle ownership: gas, insurance, depreciation, maintenance, and more.
As a result, people will typically spend more time deciding what the most cost-effective way to get around is. If people realize their trip downtown will cost $5 in gas, $7 in parking, $6 in insurance, then that $3 bus ride that only takes 15 minutes longer than driving becomes a very attractive option.
Similarly, people end up delaying a private vehicle purchase or even sell their private vehicle once part of a carsharing service (CityLab). Since a private vehicle is sitting idle for most of the day, it makes more sense to pay a variable cost per use when needed. Whether that be in the form of public transportation or carsharing, all of a sudden there are more options that could make sense.

Understandably, some people rely on their private vehicles out of necessity, like consultants or field workers. However, for those who make the average two trips a day to and from work, transportation options can and should be reassessed.

Tying it Together 
It is a challenge to shift people’s behaviours; humans are creatures of habit. But by giving people the opportunity to witness and experience the benefits of a car free day, cities can be one step closer to building a better community for people to enjoy. Going totally car free will happen in stages, and opting for shared mobility options is a great way to better understand the impacts car ownership, or the lack thereof, can have.

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