Smart mobility solutions in the Amsterdam Area

Six years ago, when friends Alex van der Woerd and Johan Janse were buying business cars for their traffic consultancy, they decided to go electric. Because businesses could purchase electric vehicles tax-free, it was an easy choice. But for consumers, who must pay full taxes for electric cars, that option was unaffordable. “If you want to drive electric,” says van der Woerd, “you have to share.”

And so Dutch startup Buurauto, which translates as “neighbour car” in English, was born. How it works is simple: users subscribe via the website, and then can share an electric car with other users in their neighbourhood via an app. “It’s shared mobility with people you know,” says van der Woerd of his ownership /sharing hybrid. “It adds a social dimension to car sharing.” Buurauto arrived in Amsterdam last spring, one of the latest players to join the city’s explosive shared mobility scene.

Car sharing is on the rise in Amsterdam

“Car sharing is definitely on the rise, and Amsterdam is the perfect city for sharing,” says Ananda Groag, a mobility expert at shareNL, a hub for developing the collaborative economy. “The size is perfect, public transportation is good, and it’s in the city’s DNA to be open to these kinds of initiatives.”

Indeed, Amsterdammers invented one of the world’s first car sharing schemes back in the 1960s, created by the same activists who introduced the famous White Bicycle Plan, the first shared cycle scheme. The cars, also white, were electric and simply needed a coin to operate. “They were so advanced,” says Groag. “But, 50 years later, we’re still struggling with the same problems: pollution, parking and traffic. And the city is expanding exponentially.”


How Amsterdam is aiming to be emissions-free

What’s evolved is the global - and the city’s - response. Policymakers and consumers increasingly demand emissions-free mobility. Amsterdam has pledged to be emissions-free by 2025, and its latest plans include removing 10,000 parking spaces to discourage car driving and ownership. Add to that a younger generation focused more on access than ownership, and it seems like there’s almost a perfect storm brewing in favour of shared mobility.

“It’s not about owning a car anymore, but about finding the right transportation at the right moment,” says Robert Bosman, Location Manager of car sharing company car2go Amsterdam. “So much is happening in this sector, and everyone wants a piece of the cake.” 

Car2go has seen a 30 per cent increase in users over the past year. More than 1,000 businesses utilise its fully electric fleet, a number that’s expected to rise now that car2go offers reserved parking at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. “Car sharing really compliments public transport,” says Bosman. “And if there are large numbers of public transport users, like in Amsterdam, car sharing succeeds.”

ViaVan aims to revolutionise public transport

Enter ViaVan, a joint venture between Via and Mercedes-Benz Vans in Europe. This on-demand transit system launched in Amsterdam in early 2018 and serves as an extension of the city’s public transport network. Through its app, users select a pick-up and drop-off point, and then ViaVan’s advanced algorithm helps to book seats for riders in a shared vehicle with others going the same way. Amsterdam is the first city the company launched in, and ViaVan recently expanded its services to Schiphol airport and Zaandam.

“Amsterdam perfectly aligned with ViaVan’s criteria for a city that could successfully implement shared mobility,” says Yariv Hauer, general manager of ViaVan in Amsterdam. “This includes its large size, an openness to new mobility offerings and an opportunity for on-demand transit to complement existing public transportation in areas without 24/7 service or access to coverage. Amsterdam’s residents are unique in their connection to multi-modal mobility.”

Felyx's shared scooters provide a different way to travel

This desire to use different modes of transport to support different needs also gave rise in 2017 to Felyx, the shared electric scooter startup that aims to provide “compact, shared and sustainable” transportation to city dwellers. “We see people using our service in combination with other services,” says Luc van Emmerik, Felyx's global head of expansion. “Amsterdam is very well-connected, but if you want to go further into the city, our service is a great surplus to your journey or daily commute.”

Although Van Emmerik lauds Amsterdam as a great city for startups and partnerships, there are still some bumps on the road to shared mobility. The city’s effort to eliminate thousands of parking spaces affects shared cars, too. Only 750 free-floating shared cars are permitted to operate in Amsterdam in total. Car2go says it will need to increase its current offering of 350 vehicles to meet demand, especially with its new airport service. “It’s good to get rid of on-street parking, but there needs to be an alternative,” says Bosman. “I’d like to see a shared mobility hub, like in Germany, where you can find bikes, scooters and shared cars in one place and take what you need.”

Two riders on a felyx e-scooter in Amsterdam

Photo: A felyx scooter in Amsterdam

Traditional car manufacturers launch shared mobility schemes

Meanwhile, more traditional car manufacturers are entering the shared mobility arena. While Ioniq, the Hyundai-backed car sharing scheme, closed shop at the end of 2018. Renault will launch an electric car sharing project in Amsterdam by mid-January. Traditional rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz are in the process of forming one company for their non-traditional operations only, including car sharing, ride hailing, charging and parking.

There are other actors, too. Property developers, including those in IJburg and Sloterdijk, are reaching out to Buurauto to supply cars for their new buildings to cut back on parking spaces. Buurauto is also part of a wider energy solution: It’s experimental charging project in Nieuw Sloten serves as a vehicle-to-grid solution, wherein a parked car delivers energy to the grid and charges at night after the rates go down.

Zuidas Amsterdam Roel Baeckaert

Photo: Amsterdam's Zuidas business district

How businesses are helping Amsterdam's urban mobility

Businesses in the expanding Zuidas business district are also encouraging employees to look for alternatives to driving to work, with personal mobility budgets replacing the once prized lease car. Large employers in the Zuidas are also working with the city on developing MaaS, or mobility as a service, where all options come together, and are paid for, in one smart app, such as the Finnish WHIM. “The only way Amsterdammers will consider leaving the car behind is if they have a better and cheaper alternative and therefore experience 'freedom of mobility,'" Tijs Roelofs, Amsterdam’s Smart Mobility Manager, has said.

Two years ago, leasing and insurance companies, municipalities, mobility startups and environmental groups formed a Green Carsharing Deal with the goal of increasing car sharing to 100,000 vehicles by 2018. While it didn’t reach that milestone, there are currently 41,000 shared cars in the Netherlands out of the country’s registered 8,000,000, almost double the 2016 amount. Amsterdam has most of them, reflecting the city’s low car ownership rate.

For Groag, it’s not just about the numbers. “The goal was to work with all the actors and bring awareness and use to car sharing,” she says. “Governments are now considering it, and organisations, employers and builders are putting it on their agendas. It takes time, but the conversation has been sparked and that’s the goal.” Success indeed.

Find out more about Amsterdam's smart mobility sector, or read more business news from the region.