Carles: a new mobility concept for suburban Europe

Suburban mobility can't be effectively distributed by fixed-route bus services, train or subway systems: quick connected services in low-density areas must be provided by a transport mode that’s adaptable and ready to arrive quickly to every home, whenever it is needed.  

Mobility researchers have been studying transportation behaviour for many years. Learnings show that the vast majority of us choose the car -and commonly the Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV)- for logical reasons, regardless of traffic congestion, as the automobile provides speed, adaptability (as per trip duration and destination), comfort, privacy and security.

Traditional fixed-route public transport, on the other hand, is much slower at connecting origin and destination (due to the time it takes to wait for the vehicle and to travel through all the necessary stops along the way), rigid (it serves a predetermined amount of routes), less pleasant than the private car, and less independent and safe. Hence, the affordable cost of the subsidized ticket is exceeded by its numerous disadvantages, especially in more dispersed areas.

Public transportation has become quite unsuccessful when pulling people out of their automobiles. This isn’t because we all have an absurd “love affair with our car”, but because conventional public transport is designed for the dense and concentric land distribution of large cities, which makes it inadequate to the distinct geography of smaller towns. To be beneficial in these environments, public mobility must be rethought to provide more of the advantages that we all get from the automobile.

To tackle this issue, Shotl has taken part in a new initiative branded Carles (Charles in Catalan), which pretends to solve the local connectivity of the town of Sant Cugat, an affluent suburb of Barcelona (only 20km away) with beautiful natural surroundings and a popular walkable center, that’s become a prime living location for prosperous families in search of quieter and more spacious living. As a result, the municipality counts on a vast territory filled with houses and small apartment buildings, which forces its inhabitants to depend on their automobiles on a daily basis.

Carles is a new pilot of an on-demand public transportation service created in cooperation with the City Council of Sant Cugat del Vallès and the local transport company Moventis that pretends to deploy a new layer of transportation halfway through the bus and the private car. The trial started on July 10th with the aim to reinforce the existing bus network thanks to a fleet of 4 passenger vans providing flexible routes, and connecting every household to the town center, to its services and shops and to its train stations.

Driven by the assumption that van services connecting all residences could be offered at minor net taxpayer cost than the existing bus service, the City Council of Sant Cugat is interested in exploring new ways to decrease the high volume of traffic that’s been growing during the last years and severely aggravated by the current post-pandemic. Carles is set to interconnect all bus stops together in a demand-responsive way that’s not subject to schedules or fix routes. The result is a “bus stop-to-bus stop” transport service supplied by vans that -compared to the existing bus service- are able to feature higher speeds, guarantee a seat to every person, and provide minimal waiting times as well as no mode changes. 

Carles holds the capability of turning the many-to-many problem to a few-to-few situation, by gathering local commuters together in groups of 2 to 4 passengers who live near each other or travel along the same route. Given the innovative capacities created by Shotl, Carles will be able to offer on-demand services and to make productive use of vans as an alternative to the private car for local daily rides.

Assuming that the economics of such vehicles are viable, the support of the City Council of Sant Cugat through policies that allow smaller vehicles to provide mass transport is a crucial factor to grow the extent of this new model, as it becomes commercially attractive.


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