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FHWA Home / Shared Use Mobility: European Experience and Lessons Learned - Chapter 2. The European Context – FHWA Office of Policy

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Chapter 2. The European Context


While bikesharing, carsharing, ridesourcing, and other forms of shared mobility are growing rapidly in the United States, many of these concepts originally began in Europe decades ago, and Europe today continues to lead the United States with innovations in areas such as fare payment integration, electric vehicle carsharing, and MaaS.

European advances can be attributed to factors ranging from increased public-sector involvement to culture and geography. Many European cities are densely populated, highly walkable, and closer in proximity to one another than are cities in the United States. They are often better served by public transit, which functions as a backbone to help support other forms of mobility. As a result, a culture of shared transportation is more prevalent in Europe than it is in the United States, where, in many regions, travel by private car is the default mode of choice. On average, cars cost more to own and operate in Europe (including expenses for vehicle registration, fuel, tolls and parking), and land use on the continent— from pedestrian-friendly "woonerfs" to narrower streets with less parking—make owning and operating a car less convenient and competitive with other modes of travel. In addition, there is a stronger tradition of providing public transit in smaller towns and suburban areas than in the United States.

Today, many European cities are also employing creative measures to reduce gridlock and greenhouse gas emissions from private autos. Examples of these strategies include London's congestion pricing system; Oslo's plans to ban cars from its central business district; Milan's Low Emission Zone and congestion charge, which restricts private vehicle access and parking in the city's historic core; and Paris's plans to convert the Georges Pompidou Expressway into parkland.

A bikeshare station.
Photo: FHWA
While new technological advances in shared mobility often tend to grab the headlines, these cultural and geographic factors help create an environment supportive of sustained shared mobility. Other approaches by European governments—such as taking an active role in overseeing and operating shared mobility programs, allowing for some private delivery of public services, and integrating public and private transportation systems with one another—have also helped grow shared mobility and offer best practices that may be implemented in the United States

Common Challenges across Europe and the United States

While both the United States and Europe have evolved in different ways over the past 50 years, they have many common challenges when it comes to transportation, mobility, and land use. It is largely due to these commonalities that lessons from Europe would be relevant to the United States. Common challenges include:

Two side-by-side photos, the one at left depicting a dedicated bike lane adjacent to on-street parallel parking, the one at right depicting a dedicated bike lane adjacent to a travel lane. Both are in urban centers. Source: FHWA
The Arc de Triomphe in the background with congested traffic in the foreground. Photo: Pexel Images

Addressing Transportation Challenges in Europe

The chapter that follows highlights the key findings and other noteworthy observations from site visits to three European cities. As the purpose of this report is to convey the broad lessons from the study, the findings are presented as experiences from Europe as a whole rather than by city. Nevertheless, context matters, so readers seeking more background on the cities visited, and specifically the conditions in which shared mobility exists in these cities, should refer to Appendix A of this report. In addition, both the study team and the Europeans with whom the team met did note that the United States may be more advanced than Europe in some areas of shared mobility. While highlighting these areas was not a study objective, it is still interesting to note them and their likely reasons. Appendix B provides this overview of shared mobility successes in the United States.

While Europe is steeped in history and tradition, the cities visited for this study had all taken on new approaches and embraced change in order to meet 21st Century urban transportation challenges. Many of these new approaches have subsequently been scaled up to levels beyond those seen in the United States, due in part to the urban density that is naturally more supportive of shared modes. Some ideas, such as start-up incubator spaces, may be familiar to U.S. readers. A number of these developments, however, have taken a decidedly European twist and, in their formulation, can offer some ideas for transportation practitioners in the United States.

2 C. Thompson, "No Parking Here," Mother Jones, January/February 2016. Available at: https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/future-parking-self-driving-cars/. [ Return to note 2. ]

3 Texas A&M Transportation Institute, "Traffic Gridlock Sets New Records for Traveler Misery," August 26, 2015. Available at: https://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/media-information/press-release/. [ Return to note 3. ]

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