A car for everyone
This idea is deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of the Austrian population. A study by Statistik Austria states that in 2020, slightly more than 5 million cars are registered (Statistik Austria 2020). With 8.8 million inhabitants, this means that about 57 percent of the population own a car. However, let’s not ignore the difference among urban and rural areas: As of 2019, only slightly more than 700,000 cars were registered in Vienna with a population of 1.897 mln. This means that the largest conurbation in Austria has 0.37 cars per inhabitant, compared to 0.75 cars in the rest of Austria. Hence, while in Vienna the status symbol of the past has had to withstand increasing criticism in recent years, in the rest of Austria the private car is still considered an integral part of an ordinary middle-class lifestyle. The main argument of city dwellers against owning a car is of course a moral one: When in the past many people might have felt a sense of superiority and sublimity when they got into a new car, today – in the age of climate change and global warming – it is increasingly shameful. The BMW, so beloved just a few years ago, is now polluting the air. What would the inhabitants of a remote village in the northern Waldviertel region say to that?
The temptation of flexibility and comfort urge you to reach for the car keys.
Fact is: There is probably no more practical and flexible means of transportation than the private car. Taking the train to work may make you feel good, but that’s gone no later than when you arrive an hour early because the train only runs every two hours. Delays and missed connecting trains can ruin entire work days. Apart from traffic disruptions and technical problems, the car is probably the least disruptive means of transport with the greatest independence. You don’t have to share it with anyone, you don’t have to worry about the availability of seats and you can expect a calm journey without any noise. The car is simply comfortable. And in the 21st century, comfort is the best selling point there is. So how can all these individual advantages such as comfort and flexibility be combined with the collective benefits of clean air, less road noise, less soil sealing and, last but not least, climate protection?
One of many solutions: Carpooling
Carpooling – also refererred to as ridesharing or vanpooling – is an important and well-proven solution. On the internet one can find numerous innovative providers and respective platforms. Also on the country side drivers offer carpools, e.g. on the carpooling platform BlaBlaCar. However, the actual use of such services in rural areas is low. Most shared rides take place on highways from one city to the next. What prevents people from sharing rides in rural areas as well, on federal roads? Drivers can share fuel prices, while passengers can travel more cheaply than with the public transport system and do not even have to finance the expensive purchase (and maintenance) of a car. So why does the vast majority prefer to drive their private car alone?
Why not simply share? – Barriers for car-sharing
There are several reasons for this, such as communication, flexibility and trust. Communication problems take place mainly on a technical level. Who is joining my ride, where do I have to pick up my passengers? The question of time plays a major role. The advantage of cars over all other means of transportation is, as already mentioned, flexibility. This flexibility is lost if all passengers have different working hours. But here too, user-friendly apps can help. With the help of work schedules, GPS coordinates and chat functions, a few clicks can be enough to find out who is working at similar times, commutes on a similar route and either needs a car or provides one. In companies with ten employees such communication may still be possible in person, but in larger companies much depends on the clarity and user-friendliness of apps. Besides flexibility, perhaps the most important factor is trust. (Chan & Shaheen 2012) After all, carpooling means sharing my car with strangers. For some people, the prospect of being stuck together with strangers in a confined space may be a horror scenario. When it comes to company carpooling – sharing the daily commute to and from work – employers can solve the trust issue. If the company prepares the introduction of a carpooling scheme properly and takes the right accompanying measures, carpooling can be a highly social experience that supports informal bonding across the workforce. Is there any better way to get to know each other than driving together? Especially in large companies and for new employees, carpooling can be a great way to get to know colleagues and create a social atmosphere that has a productive effect on work. This is where the communication and presentation of the carpooling concept comes into play. With the possibility of chatting before the joint trip or possibly even sharing personal interests besides time and place preferences, trust is established and a feeling of security is created.
Employees and employers share and care
As a matter of fact, there are solutions for the barriers to carpooling. It is important to respond to the needs of the users. A fast, reliable matching according to work schedules and travel distances as well as the involvement of employers are of great importance. If the above-mentioned barriers are handled correctly, they offer great opportunities – as is often the case with problems in general. Carpooling is actually cheaper, gives users the conscience to contribute to the environment and at the same time allows them to get to know their colleagues better. Thus, the implementation of carpooling is also an alternative for every company to improve the atmosphere between employees even before the work day has started. Carpooling also lives up to the often-heard saying that advocates a more environmentally conscious and fairer society of sharing rather than owning: Sharing is Caring.