MOBI-MIX partner interview
Exploring the City of Mechelen's current mobility strategy
Meet the interviewees from Mechelen
What is the current shared mobility strategy in Mechelen?
Vicky: Within our vision, we pay special attention to cycling and shared mobility. We want to make cycling even easier and more pleasant and let Mechelen become the number one cycling city of Flanders. We no longer see the bicycle as an alternative to the car, but as the first choice for making a journey. Of course, not everyone can use the bicycle for all trips. For several years now, shared mobility has increasingly emerged as an alternative or supplement to a private car.
Our strategy is giving a boost to shared mobility by greatly expanding the offer. This increases the security and reliability of the system. The lack of a strong offer has proved to be one of the main reasons potential users drop out. We also have a strategy in the context of the user experience. Our aim is to make the threshold for shared mobility as low as possible. An effective benefit must be experienced by the user.
We focus on ease of use, availability, positioning in different strategic places, different systems (free-floating or station-based), adapted to user needs, etc.
In addition, we have a very targeted strategy for communication and presence in the street with ambassadors - see use, makes use. We also focus on communication with people from outside our city. When they arrive at a train station or at a car park, another mobility is immediately available to reach their destination. Furthermore, the infrastructure in our city is being adapted in line with the strategy for shared mobility: reconstruction of the vests, bicycle streets and safe traffic situations.
Since the start of the legislature three years ago, we successfully increased the offer of shared mobility. We have gone from 81 to 184 shared cars, from 2177 to 3023 car sharers, from 150 to 571 shared bicycles (including 9 shared e-cargo bikes) and from 0 to 200 shared e-scooters. In total, we speak of a tripling of the number of users of shared mobility, and some 5 million kilometres that have been driven with shared mobility in our city over the past three years.
How is Mechelen currently dealing with shared mobility providers?
Kris: Since shared mobility is a spearhead in Mechelen's mobility policy, an active search has been made for providers of shared mobility. A specification or permit framework has been developed for shared cars, bicycles and scooters to attract suppliers.
As a city, we think it is important that as many residents as possible can share vehicles. The tenders allow us to decide where shared vehicles will be set up and to make clear agreements. One of those agreements is that the provider not only shares vehicles but also information so that we as a city can gain insight into what works and what doesn't. In consultation with the providers, adjustments are always possible in order to respond to findings or new developments.
When it comes to carsharing, the city council wanted to make a big leap forward. The city council has the ambition to significantly increase the supply of shared cars, not only in the city centre but also in the sub municipalities. In addition, it is also important to the city council that there is a diverse fleet and that 50% of the new cars are electric. The city partnered up with provider cambio via a tender.
Cambio had a financially interesting offer but also had a strong file to reduce the barrier for the people of Mechelen to switch to (electric) car sharing. The car-sharing provider guarantees 24/24 permanence and is also present twice a month in the Huis van de Mechelaar (city shop) to inform citizens. Other car-sharing providers are also welcomed. After all, often a different provider or sharing system appeals to a different audience. Here too, in consultation with the providers, it is considered to not only place the cars in the most attractive neighbourhoods and to always use environmentally-friendly vehicles.
What have you developed in MOBI MIX? What has been the highlight to date?
Evelien: We developed a city-wide campaign to promote shared mobility including city dressing, a website, infographics, ambassador videos, social media posts and a folder with a complete overview. On the website, all the information of all the shared mobility providers is gathered. We now have a central location to communicate about events, actions, info sessions, new providers etc.
After a general and successful communication campaign towards Mechelen, we are now directing our efforts towards specific target groups: entrepreneurs and companies, on the one hand, residents of the sub municipalities of Mechelen on the other. The needs and wishes of these target groups are different, so an adapted approach is required. For example, there was already a webinar to inform entrepreneurs about the possibilities of car sharing for entrepreneurs, a separate website was launched (www.delenisvoorondernemers.be) and a folder will follow. With the villagers, we focus on private car sharing, especially to owners of a second car.
Mauranne: We’ve also launched the first commercial shared e-cargo bike system in our city. In 2020, we started the testing phase with 2 cargo bikes, September 2021 we upscaled to 9 cargo bikes spread across the city centre. The numbers show that the cargo bikes are being used very well. During the testing and upscaled phase in 2020 en 2021, there were 5,700 kilometres driven with the cargo bikes.
At this moment, we are launching the Sharing Neighbourhoods project. For me, this is the highlight so far. It is an experiment in which people from a certain neighbourhood are immersed on a micro level in the complete story of shared mobility in our city.
Mauranne: We inform them, have them test a shared e-car or e-cargo bike for free in advance, discuss their mobility behaviour and needs one-on-one, draw up an ideal plan and provide them with a budget with which they can actually experience the new travel behaviour for themselves for 2 months. Hereby we encourage them to leave their private car untouched for two months. This experiment is co-led by two partners. Autodelen.net is a non-profit organization with expertise in volunteer and ambassador activities for shared mobility, and Klimaan is a non-profit local energy cooperative with a large network of cooperatives in our city. Together with another local citizens' initiative and registered ambassadors, the experiment is being led and formed by an entire local community of shared mobility believers.
Evelien: Word of mouth continues to play a vital role. People would rather hear from a friend or colleague about the benefits of shared mobility and how easy it is, than from a municipality trying to convince them. A personal story makes it much more concrete. We respond to this by working with ambassadors in the communication campaign. Sharing Neighbourhoods can also make a contribution here. More people are getting the chance to try out sharing mobility (even if they may be sceptical) and spread the word about it afterwards.
How have you been able to implement the cargo bikes demonstrator with the help of MOBI-MIX?
Mauranne: With the help of MOBI-MIX, we were able to start up the first shared e-cargo bike pilot in our city. We already had contact with shared e-cargo bike provider Cargoroo, and further market consultation showed no other interested player. We also investigated whether it was cheaper/easier to buy and operate cargo bikes ourselves, and that turned out not to be the case.
After the tender was won by Cargoroo, we ensured that local maintenance could be provided for the cargo bikes. A collaboration has been set up between Cargoroo and a local bicycle repair service called ‘t Fietsatelier (a non-profit ecological, social organisation).
We surveyed the residents and found out who would like a shared e-cargo bike in the area. We mapped it out and based on that map and determined where a bicycle could be placed - always at a staple bike rack.
The city provided location stencils (ground marking) and made sure the cargo bikes were placed. Cargoroo was of course also included in the general shared mobility campaign, where we for example shared an ambassador video and explained the prices and use of the system. During the pilot, contact with Cargoroo remains and very month we receive a data report.
What are the main lessons learnt from MOBI-MIX?
Evelien: During this project, it became clear to me how necessary such an extensive communication campaign was/is. The shared mobility offer has expanded enormously in recent years, but many people still have a perception that there are few options. Some people are open to eg. car-sharing, but are insufficiently aware of the possibilities and the offer. Informing citizens is therefore crucial. Even a general campaign, in which you are almost knocked over by the images in the streets, sometimes turns out to be insufficient. Sometimes people really want to be taken by the hand and guided. That is why it is good that there are also projects such as Sharing Neighbourhoods, where a personal approach/guidance is paramount. On the other hand, residents sometimes also have frustrations about e.g. infrastructure and road works, to which shared mobility does not provide a conclusive answer. This still causes frustration among residents, so that people are still really stuck with their own car. Once again it shows how deeply embedded this is in society and for certain people, it really takes a long time to get just one seed planted that can one day mean a change in mentality.
Mauranne: We are excited to learn from the survey that is now running. When the results get processed by Bax & Company, we will actually see and know what the impact of shared mobility and more specific the shared e-cargo bikes are on our city. Also, we are eager to learn from the Sharing Neighbourhoods experiment. A specific URL of the previously mentioned survey was created to identify the change in behaviour of the participants. Besides that, we’ve learned very handy tips and tricks from the MOBI-MIX partners during the conference calls and from the guidebooks developed by Bax & Company.
Special thanks to those at Mechelen for participating in this partner interview for the MOBI-MIX project.