Dublin City Council is setting up a team to work on projects to encourage people to stop driving private cars so much, and opt instead for car-sharing, bike-sharing, e-bike-sharing or e-scooter-sharing services.

The council is setting up a “shared mobility unit”, said a council spokesperson on Monday.

So far, it has run a consultation with industry about e-scooter sharing, they said. “And [it] is also looking to amalgamate a number of different schemes into the one unit.”

Public mobility hubs are also being considered, they said. “This is one of the items being looked at.”

Public mobility hubs are clusters of shared vehicles – whether cars, e-bikes, scooters – that people in the surrounding neighbourhoods can all use.

Mobility hubs are for “abnormal” trips, says Brian Caulfield, an associate professor of engineering in Trinity College Dublin.

Rather than, say, daily trips to work, school or childcare, which should be supported by public transport, says Caulfield.

“They’re there for probably less than 20 percent of your trips. They’re there for the ones that you just can’t take with public transport, or walk or cycle,” he says.

So far, the council’s work on mobility hubs has been largely internal – setting up mobility hubs for its staff. What might a more public roll-out look like?

Efforts So Far

In 2019, Dublin City Council launched a smart mobility hub at its Wood Quay offices. Staff can book one of six cars, five bikes and five e-bikes to use when going on off-site work.

“We want to lead by example to deploy smart and innovative new solutions that will reduce emissions and deliver a cleaner city environment for all,” said Owen Keegan, the council’s chief executive, in a statement at the time.

The council wants to test the concept of a smart mobility hub and catalogue what was learned so other organisations can copy, says Yvonne Pearse, an analyst for Smart Dublin, which runs the scheme.

The Wood Quay hub “was a success”, she says.

“We have roughly 1,650 bookings across the three participating councils – Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, and Fingal County Council – split across multiple vehicle types, including e-cars, e-bikes and push bikes,” she said.

It means Smart Dublin is now planning to roll out the scheme to other council offices, says Pearse. Next up are the Townsend Street Fire Station, the Finglas Area Office, the Central Area Office, and the Ballymun Area Office.

To get a hub, offices have to request one and have charging infrastructure for the e-bikes and e-cars, Pearse says.

They’re still proving whether or not hubs work in this context, she says, as an “internal staff initiative that could theoretically be adapted by any employer”.

“But to be clear – area, residential or public mobility hubs are a different topic with different considerations,” she says.

A Wider Plan?

Caulfield says he can’t see mobility hubs working in low-rise housing estates that have already been built. But they could be built into new apartment complexes, he says, as they could set aside the space for them.

“Say, in the underground car park, that there’s maybe a fleet of maybe 10 or 12 cars there that you could book. Or 100 cars, and 1,000 bikes,” he says, depending on how many residents live there and how many “abnormal” trips they may take on average.

Moving in, “you will never have a current parking space for your car, however you will have access to a GoCar, or bikes and public transport”, he says.

Not having a car takes away convenience, but also expense, says Caulfield. “It makes it a little bit more difficult and makes you consider the options that you have available – so you make a healthier and greener choice.”

Some developments are already moving in that direction, with proposals in recent years for big apartment complexes without car spaces for all the apartments, anad with a few car share spaces thrown in too.

How much car parking is required under the Department of Housing’s Design Standards for New Apartments depends on how central a development is.

But if a developer wants to cut all, or some, car parking, it has to provide “alternative mobility solutions”, it says.

“Including facilities for car sharing club vehicles and cycle parking and secure storage,” say the standards.

Hines’ recent application for more than 1,600 homes in Drumcondra, at the former Holycross College site off Clonliffe Road, includes a letter of intent from GoCar for up to 25 cars, mostly for residents, it says.

The development would also have a mobility manager, who would keep an eye on transport to keep shifting it towards sustainable modes, says the plan.

Says Caulfield: “At a glance, the plans look very good for those developments.”

But there should be stipulations that use of the mobility hubs should be annually reported to the public and planning authorities, he says.

“It would be unfortunate if these hubs were being put in and just paying lip service to the sustainable mobility requirements and especially our emissions reduction targets,” he says.

In Bremen in Germany, a city that has been working on these hubs for almost two decades, developers can include mobility hubs instead of more car-parking spots, says Rebecca Karbaumer, coordinator of the shared mobility hubs unit in the city’s Ministry for Transport.

“It’s good for them because they are more cost effective – and also you get more housing,” she says.

It’s optional right now, she says, but there’s a public consultation at the moment looking at changing that. “We are working on making it mandatory,” says Karbaumer

Costs and Calculations

In 2014, the Dublin City Council Beta Projects team tried to identify areas in the city where there was already a cluster of mobility options, says Shane Waring, the project’s coordinator – and to flag those for people.

They mapped these “leap points” as they called them, with the idea of planting a pole to tell people what they could pick up where.

It was to see whether naming or branding a cluster would help the council with future transport infrastructure decisions, he says.

They started a trial of the project on Chancery Street near the Four Courts Luas stop, but it had to be paused two weeks later because of construction around there, says Waring. Now, the team is too busy to restart the project, he says.

Karbaumer says where you put the hubs can affect viability, if the roll-out relies on private providers.

In the suburban neighbourhoods in Bremen, a hub simply isn’t economically viable for providers, she says.

“Because you need a certain number of bookings and a certain number of users, regular users, to create this economic viability,” she says. “And that is a challenge.”

Here, DublinBikes only has stations inside the canal, despite long-standing calls from councillors to expand them to suburbs.

Government financial support would be necessary if cities want hubs in suburbs, Karbaumer says.

She says a temporary subsidy could work, for a year or two. “Then subsidies are reduced over time until the operator is able to, you know, have enough users, and critical mass to create a business case.”

Brussels has a good way to go about it, she says. Before providers can build a hub in an attractive high-density neighbourhood, they have to put one in the outskirts of the city.

Adding hubs to new housing developments is a good first step, she says. “People are most likely to change their mobility behaviour when something major changes in their life – and moving house is one of those major changes.”

“But once you’ve settled into that behaviour, it’s really unlikely that it’s going to change,” she says.

How It Works

The German city of Bremen has been building transport hubs since 2003, says Karbaumer.

It now has 45 public hubs around the city and 90 hubs in private places such as office buildings, supermarkets or churches, she says.

They tally up to 137 cars in the public hubs and 389 cars at private hubs (not including cars that can be picked up or dropped off anywhere). Each station has between 2 and 12 cars, she says.

Part of her work is looking for gaps in the car-share network, she says. But she also works to improve the wider area around a new hub.

“We can redesign an intersection while we’re planning a hub to make it barrier free, to make it more accessible to, you know, pedestrians and cyclists and children,” she says.

So there’s more to a hub than the hub. “It’s always an opportunity to do additional infrastructure improvements for neighbourhoods, along with providing car-share service,” says Karbaumer.

The city’s goal is to reduce the distance between each car-sharing station and residents to a maximum of 300 metres, she says. “So that there is less than a five-minute walking distance for the average user.”

At the moment, it depends on the neighbourhood as to how many hubs there are, she says.

“We do not subsidise the car-sharing services in Bramen, so we have to be aware of the market challenges for the providers, what they need in order to have a business case – so like, user density, type of users,” she says.

Looking Forward

Pearse, the analyst at Smart Dublin, says that guidance on public mobility hubs will be taken from the Department of Transport’s Five Cities Demand Management Study Recommendations Report from March 2021.

It looks at ways to manage traffic congestion and air pollution from cars in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

Mobility hubs get a brief mention as a possible solution to congestion and residential parking. Access to a “car club” is mentioned for residential areas.

As are delivery hubs, from which electric cars and cargo bikes can do “last-mile distribution”, which the council has already enabled. Businesses in industrial parks could start car-sharing schemes together, it says.

Caulfied, the associate professor of engineering at Trinity, says there’s lots of technological changes happening at the moment.

In Dublin, five operators so far provide shared mobility services: Dublin Bikes, GoCar, Yuko, Bleeper and Moby. Together, they have 2,591 vehicles around the city, he says.

“That’s an impressive offering for a city the size of Dublin,” he says. “Shared mobility I think will become a much bigger piece of the mobility offering that we have in our cities.”

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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