Photo by Patricia Esteve
An on-board system allows a car to recognise a member's code.
Barcelona is a pretty terrible city to own a car in. On top of all the usual costs of running a vehicle, the fact that most people live in flats means that off-street parking is an expensive necessity, and street parking is almost impossible in some parts of town. Meanwhile, the good public transport system and the snail-like pace of rush-hour traffic mean that, even for those who do own a car, many only end up using it at weekends or when they need to leave town.
Avancar is a Barcelona-based initiative that aims to help people drive without the hassle of owning a car. The high-tech car-sharing service is partly owned by the Generalitat and the Ajuntament, and was started as part of the drive to encourage more sustainable transport. It is headed by Josep Salas.
The concept is simple: pay for a car only when it’s being used. When a client needs a car, they call Avancar and choose the model they want. They are told which car park to go to; cars can be collected from 20 points in Barcelona. The client goes to the car, swipes their membership card in a special reader, and enters a code, unlocking the car; the keys are in the glove box. When they’re finished with the car, they return it, and are billed for time and mileage at the end of the month. Prices start at €2.82, plus €0.28 per kilometre and include petrol. This, and the membership fee (currently €80 a year), are the only costs, and drivers can choose between a number of different car sizes.
Car-sharing started in Switzerland and Germany back in the late Eighties, when groups of community-minded individuals started buying cars in groups to share the costs. “At first car-sharing worked on a co-operative basis,” explained Salas. “From there, it evolved into a comprehensive service.”
Car-sharing has moved on with the times: Avancar’s cars are all equipped with on-board computers which are used for the reservation process (enabling the car to be unlocked by a user’s personal card when they’ve reserved the vehicle), and which also allow clients to be in contact with the central office at all times. After two years in business, Avancar has over 800 clients, including both individuals and businesses; Salas is confident that this number will grow.
“If you look at similar schemes in central Europe and the United States, you’ll see that car-sharing is growing in importance. Here, many people actually use their cars very little and it works out much cheaper to only pay for a car when you’re using it. But it’s a question of time: we can’t expect people
to change their attitude towards owning a car overnight.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Salas claimed that car ownership in Barcelona is likely to become increasingly impractical. He also anticipated that a growing awareness of environmental issues means that people are likely to shy away from car ownership as they abandon driving as part of their everyday routine: “It’s not just about cost, but also about inconvenience. It’s already very inconvenient to drive in the city, and it’s probably going to get worse. The level of atmospheric pollution in Barcelona is already very high, so I imagine that soon there’ll be lots of pressure to stop driving and measures to restrict car use. So, if you’re a resident here, why have a car if you can’t use it, apart from to go away for the weekend every so often?”
As eco-transport options go, driving will never be as green as, say, riding a bike. However, projects like Avancar offer ways to make one car work for many people, and a glimpse of a more sustainable transport network.