The role of digital sharing mobility platforms in a circular economy: the Dutch market
Arnold Martowidjojo Student number: 13079778
MSc. Business Administration – Digital Business Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam
EBEC approval number: 20210325080352 Supervisors: Andrea Ganzaroli, Silvia Blasi
Version: Final June 25, 2021
2 Statement of originality
This document is written by Student Arnold Martowidjojo who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.
I declare that the text and the work presented in this document is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
The Faculty of Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
Table of content
1. Abstract ...4
2. Introduction ...5
3. Literature review ...9
3.1 Sharing economy ...9
3.2 Circular economy ... 10
3.3 Sustainable and circular business models ... 12
4. Data and method ... 14
4.1 Data collection ... 14
4.2 Data analysis strategy ... 16
5. Results ... 19
6. Discussion ... 29
6.1 Main results ... 29
6.1.1 Business models ... 29
6.1.2 Digital technologies ... 30
6.1.3 Natural and social resources... 31
6.1.4 Role circular economy ... 32
6.2 Strengths of this study... 33
6.3 Limitations and future research suggestions ... 34
7. Conclusion ... 36
References ... 38
Appendix A ... 42
Appendix B... 43
Appendix C ... 44
4 1. Abstract
One of the core principles of a circular economy is to eliminate waste and to reuse more efficiently. This happens to be at the core of a sharing economy. After all, it is focused on the reuse of products (as a service) by design. One example of how the concept of a sharing economy has been rolled out in practice, is in the form of sharing mobility. The key purpose of this Master’s thesis is to explore how digital sharing mobility platforms in the Dutch market contribute to a circular economy. This study focused on vehicle sharing, not to be confused with ride sharing. Thirty platforms have been identified, offering single modal sharing mobility, i.e. either bikes, scooters or cars, or multimodal modal sharing mobility, multiple modes of transportation. Ten semi-structured interviews have been conducted with ten different platforms, ranging from all three modes of transportation, in order to gain
insights in their businesses and practices. While vehicle ownership results in a lot of idle time wherein the vehicle is not being used it’s designed for, i.e. when parked, sharing mobility and not owning a vehicle has the potential to reduce the overall amount of vehicles. This research has shown that multiple concrete examples of at least two main circular economy principles, i.e. slow and close, are touched upon. Digital sharing mobility platforms contribute to a more sustainable environment and play a role in the transition from the mainstream linear economic model, towards a more circular economy, by slowing and closing the product cycle.
Keywords: circular economy, sharing economy, sharing mobility, vehicle sharing, digital platforms, sustainability
5 2. Introduction
While the human population is growing steadily and people are living in cities more often than in rural areas, governments and businesses recognize the pressure to act more sustainably (Doran & Ryan, 2016; United Nations, 2019). It’s becoming more evident that business as usual is not sufficient to support a sustainable future (Bocken, Short, Rana, & Evans, 2014).
However, this issue can also form opportunities for firms to position themselves competitively by exploiting climate-induced demand (Porter & Reinhardt, 2007; Bocken & Short, 2016).
Sustainable business models can provide the means to generate both economic and
environmental value at the same time, as it acts as an instrument to accelerate the necessary transition (Bocken & Short, 2016; Piscicelli, Ludden, & Cooper, 2018). A contemporary concept that challenges mainstream linear economic models is the Circular Economy (CE).
As an alternative model to the take-make-dispose economy, CE promotes a socially and environmentally sustainable economy. One of the core principles of CE is to eliminate waste and to reuse more efficiently (The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015). This happens to be at the core of a sharing economy, after all, it is focused on the reuse of products (as a service) by design and is increasingly seen as an enabler for CE (Schwanholz & Leipold, 2020). One example of how the concept of a sharing economy has been rolled out in practice, is in the form of sharing mobility. Sharing vehicles, whether it’s by bike, scooter or car, seems to have the potential to reduce traffic congestion and CO2 emissions (Martin & Shaheen, 2011;
Shaheen, Chan & Micheaux, 2015; Santos, 2018). Not to mention, some sharing platforms choose to only use electric vehicles (e.g. Fetch Car Sharing). Sharing mobility solves a part of the sustainability problem, as sharing platforms make more efficient usage of idle vehicles possible by allowing it to be used by more people than just the owner. Also in some major cities, owning a car can have more pains than gains. Furthermore, car sharing might meet urban citizens’ demand. This hasn’t gone unnoticed as numerous sharing mobility platforms
6 have arisen, spotting opportunities to conduct business exploiting digital technologies making platform apps possible. Contrary to traditional renting of mobility, sharing mobility is often organized via a digital platform, available 24/7, not only during office hours and vehicle pickup locations are distributed, not centralized (Shaheen & Cohen, 2013). The higher customers’ convenience with sharing compared to renting, is a possible explanation for its rapid global expansion the last decade (Shaheen & Cohen, 2020). Its rising popularity might have a positive effect on sustainability. This research is investigating the role of sharing mobility platforms in a circular economy by analyzing business models found in existing platforms.
Digital sharing platforms is a relatively novel field of study and particularly from a circular economy point of view, it’s a just emerging stream (Schwanholz & Leipold, 2020;
Henry, Schraven, Bocken, Frenken, Hekkert & Kirchherr, 2021). The sharing economy (SE) seems to hold the potential for a more sustainable world (Muñoz & Cohen, 2017). As Kathan, Matzler and Veider (2016) state, “Sharing can be sustainable if ecological consumption is important to consumers”. Contrary to this view, Martin (2016) argues a more commercial role of a SE and that “if the sharing economy continues along this current pathway of corporate co-option it is highly unlikely to drive a transition to sustainability”. Anyhow, there’s a strong confidence from both academia and policy makers, that a SE is a mode of sustainable
consumption and will lead to lower emissions and resource consumptions (European
Commission, 2016; Warmington-Lundström & Laurenti, 2020). As digital sharing platforms evolve from simple lending initiatives to complex commercialized sharing platforms, Muñoz and Cohen (2017) uncovered the underlying conceptual structure of sharing business models, revealing five typologies, which will be covered in more detail in the literature review. Yet, examining sharing business models have been lacking compared to business models for CE (e.g. Bocken et al., 2014; Lewandowski, 2016; Michelini, Moraes, Cunha, Costa & Ometto,
7 2017; Piscicell et al., 2018; Rosa, Sassanelli & Terzi, 2019; Henry et al., 2021). Just as SE in some cases could be conceptualized within the broader term of CE, the vast literature on circular business models might be compatible with extant SE cases (Schwanzholz & Leipold, 2020). To add to the current debate on digital sharing platforms and its role in CE, a deeper view on this will be adopted, specifically in mobility. This research explores the concept of sharing economy from a circular economy perspective in the context of sharing mobility in the Netherlands. At the moment, no extant peer reviewed literature offers an examination of sharing mobility within circular economy in the Dutch market.
To meet the objective of this study, the main research question will guide the analysis:
• To what extent does digital sharing mobility platforms play a role in circular economy within the Dutch market, in regards to circular economy principles?
To expand the scope of this research slightly and to narrow certain topics down, three additional questions will be asked, with reference to business models, the role of digital technologies and the exploitation of resources:
• What are the main business models of digital sharing mobilities implemented/available?
• How does the role of digital technologies change in each of those models?
• How do these models differ in terms of circularity in the exploitation of natural and social resources?
The results of this study complements current literature on digital sharing platforms and circular economy by providing an overview of numerous digital sharing mobility platforms active in the Dutch market and by analyzing different business models found within this sample from a circularity perspective. Furthermore, it provides a better understanding of
8 business models in the sharing mobility industry and insight into circularity aspects of
9 3. Literature review
3.1 Sharing economy
The concept of sharing is anything but new and has been under scholar’s attention for decades (Belk, 2009). The concept of sharing economy, on the other hand, got its traction much more recently, as various sharing-based businesses have emerged (Schwanzholz &
Leipold, 2020). While there is still no common definition for the sharing economy, multiple scholars have tried to define this concept. Munoz & Cohen (2017) built on previous work and defined it as: “a socioeconomic system enabling an intermediated set of exchanges of goods and services between individuals and organizations which aim to increase efficiency and optimization of under-utilized resources in society”. Botsman and Rogers (2011) refer to this with the term collaborative economy, which has been used synonymously for sharing
economy, among other terminologies such as peer economy, collaborative consumption, gig economy, platform economy and on-demand economy (Schwanzholz & Leipold, 2020).
Although people have been sharing goods for many years, it was mainly after the arrival of the Internet that people started to share with strangers (Frenken & Schor, 2017). The Internet made it possible to inquire about supply, demand, reliability and contracts, at much more ease (Frenken & Schor, 2017). Before this, sharing was predominantly practiced within one’s social circle. Digital platforms lowered search costs and contribute to trustworthiness and reliability as information about one’s sharing history is often one of the platform’s feature, e.g. ratings and reviews on popular sharing platforms like Airbnb and Uber (Frenken & Schor, 2017). The latter is an example of a digital platform in the sharing mobility business, an industry that has increased in popularity the last years (Cohen & Kietzmann, 2014). Although vehicle sharing is not a technology in itself, it is “mainly technology-enabled through digital technologies, e.g. social media or apps on mobile devices” (Müller, 2019). There’s an
important distinction that should be cleared up between vehicle sharing and ride sharing, two
10 segment that fall under mobility sharing. While vehicle sharing encompasses the sharing element of vehicles (car, scooter and bike) and the ability to drive them yourself, ride sharing refers to a service based concept wherein the ride or transport is centered, without the ability to drive yourself (Frenken & Schor, 2017). Uber is arguably the most popular ride sharing platform. This study is mainly focused on vehicle sharing which will be often referred to as mobility sharing.
Car sharing has been subject to an increase in popularity around the world, just like scooter and bike sharing (Münzel et al., 2020). In North America the number of members active in car sharing has increased rapidly from almost 400.000 in 2009 to more than 2 million in 2018 (Shaheen & Cohen, 2020). With a quick rise in the scooter sharing market the last five years, European cities are currently leading the scooter sharing market, with 104 out of 122 scooter sharing cities located in Europe (Howe & Jakobsen, 2020). The number of bike sharing systems launched worldwide has surged from 20 new systems deployed in 2008 to 337 in 2018 (Galatoulas et al., 2020).
3.2 Circular economy
The last decade, the circular economy has been gaining increasingly more attention (Ghisellini et al., 2016). Circular economy is a contemporary concept that challenges the mainstream linear economic model. As an alternative model to the take-make-dispose economy, a circular economy promotes a socially and environmentally sustainable economy (Ness, 2008).
Linking the concepts circular economy and sharing economy is something that hasn’t been done a lot in the past. At the moment of writing, in academic literature, only 66 peer reviewed articles have been found at Scopus, using the two keywords, of which all dated from 2014 on.
Lacy and Rutqvist (2015) seem to be one of the first to combine and cover these two concepts in their book Waste to Wealth. Schwanholz and Leipold (2020) have linked digital sharing
11 platforms in the German market with circular economy principles. Pham et al. (2019) saw potential for Industry 4.0 to accelerate the sharing economy in the circular economy, specifically in electric scooter sharing in Taiwan. Also Sposato et al. (2017) recognized the connection between sharing and circular economy and analyzed how the sharing economy can contribute to circular economy. Cohen and Munoz (2015) stated that “cities are arguably the most important battle ground for transforming to a more circular economy, and the sharing economy will be an integral component of the transformation”. In the wider scope of circular economy, Boar et al. (2020) investigated the relationship between the sharing economy, sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and found that the sharing economy helps achieve all SDGs.
Ghisellini et al. (2016) provided an extensive review of the circular economy literature of the last two decades and saw that it often emerges through the 3R’s Principles: reduction, reuse and recycle. However Schwanzhold and Leipold (2020) identified more principles and summarized theoretical principles of circular economy promoted by scientific literature adopted from Ghisellini et al. (2016), Geissdoerfer et al. (2017) and Schneider (2017). An even more extensive list of circular principles has been presented by Konietzko et al. (2020), as part of The Circularity Deck, a card deck-based tool “that can help firms to analyze, ideate and develop the circularity potential of their innovation ecosystems”. Elaborating on this tool, Kristensen et al. (2021) made a conceptualization of the circular economy strategies, i.e.
narrow, slow, close, regenerate and inform, and the corresponding principles (Figure 1).
Circular economy is such a wide concept that involves the sharing economy, among many other things. Although the circular economy and sharing economy are different concepts in their core, sharing economy is centered around the sharing component and circular economy is centered around a circular economic model, there is some overlap. Maybe the most evident
12 way in which the sharing economy is manifesting circular principles is in sharing business models.
3.3 Sustainable and circular business models
Business models have been widely researched resulting in various definitions for this concept. A widely adopted definition derives from Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) who formulated it as “the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value”.
The pressing need for sustainable practices results in growing importance for collaboration between firms and other stakeholders (Lowitt, 2013). Creating business models in a way that economic value can be harnessed mainly through social and environmental benefits, is
challenging (Schaltegger et al., 2013). Sustainable business models act as a tool to coordinate technological and social innovations with “system-level sustainability” (Bocken et al., 2014).
Lüdeke-Freund (2010) defined a sustainable business model as “a business model that creates competitive advantage through superior customer value and contributes to a sustainable development of the company and society”.
Circular business models are a new type of business models. These kind of business models are based on preserving economic value of products after their use and exploit it for new types of market offerings (Rosa et al, 2019). In this way, used products can be utilized in different manners and so function as a resource for new products and offerings. Rosa et al.
(2019) state that circular business models can be categorized under the wider umbrella of either green business models or sustainable business models.
Lacy and Rutqvist (2015) identified five new business models for circular growth: i) Circular Supply Chain, ii) Recovery and Recycling, iii) Product Life-extension, iv) Sharing Platform and v) Product as a Service. These last two business models are relevant for sharing mobility platforms as consumers on one hand are sharing vehicles together and companies at
13 the other hand are offering their fleets to customers as a service, often paying per time frame and/or amount of kilometers driven.
Sharing mobility platforms make use of a business model based on the sharing economy.
With the definition of a sustainable business model (Lüdeke-Freund, 2010), interpretation of a circular business model (Rosa et al., 2019) and the business models for circular growth (Lacy and Rutqvist, 2015) in mind, sharing mobility platforms definitely carry sustainable and circular potential. While sharing mobility is gaining popularity in both vehicle and ride sharing, few publications have explored the role of vehicle sharing in a circular economy and specifically in the Dutch market. This study provides an overview of mobility sharing
platforms active in the Netherlands and investigates its role in circular economy.
14 4. Data and method
This research aims to shed light on digital sharing mobility platforms and its role in circular economy in the Dutch market. In order to find answers to the research questions stated in the introduction, a qualitative research approach has been chosen. Qualitative research methods help with understanding the context of social environments, by using data that is often characterized by its “richness and fullness” (Myers, 2013).
4.1 Data collection
Digital sharing mobility platforms, i.e. bike, scooter and car sharing platforms, active in the Dutch market has been searched and identified. Using the most common online search engine Google, these platforms have been found, until an exhaustive list has been generated. In Appendix A, a table can be found presenting the list of thirty identified mobility platforms.
Basic information about the listed platforms can be found on their official websites, including information about the type of provider (B2B, B2P or P2P) and orientation (for profit, non- profit), as adopted from Schwanzholz & Leipold (2020). It should be mentioned that terms like business to peer and business to consumer are being used synonymously across scholars (e.g. Piscicelli et al., 2018; Schor & Fitzmaurice, 2015). Every company in that list has been initially contacted online, directly via their corporate email address or via their website’s contact form. It was aimed to conduct as many interviews as possible in the limited time frame of this research to get a complete picture as possible. Out of the thirty companies, eleven companies have agreed to schedule an interview. While one interview was canceled last minute, a total of ten semi-structured interviews have been conducted and recorded. A semi-structured setup seemed the most appropriate approach as this will provide the interviewer and the interviewee with a format, some structure and will help direct the
responses, while allowing room for the participant to elaborate, unlike a structured interview
15 or survey which is more rigid and may limit the elaborateness of answers and other possible qualitative data that may otherwise be missed. Appendix B, shows the interview guide.
Data that is required for the purpose of the study includes mission and vision statements, answers to questions related to circular principles and other sustainable practices. Relevant dimensions to map, can be based on previous scholar’s work. Konietzko et al. (2020) and Kristensen et al. (2021) presented a comprehensive set of circularity principles and strategies for product, business model and ecosystem innovation (see figure 1 and table 1). Some of these principles have formed the basis for setting up the interview questions, which would make analyzing their business models possible.
Figure 1 Conceptualization of CE strategies and examples of product design and business model principles, expanded from Konietzko et al.
(2020) by Kristensen et al. (2021)
Table 1 Few examples of CE strategies and product and business model principles. The complete list is presented by Konietzko et al. (2020).
Circular Strategy Circular Principle and the Required Innovation Perspective: Product (p), Business Model (bm) or Ecosystem (e)
Narrow Eliminate production waste (bm)
Slow Design for physical durability (p)
Slow Provide the product as a service (bm)
Close Recycle products in proper facilities (bm) Close Enable and incentivize product returns (bm)
Regenerate Power the use of the product with renewable energy (bm)
Inform Track the condition, location, and/or availability of the product (bm)
4.2 Data analysis strategy
For this research, ten interviews have been held. Grounded theory as a qualitative research strategy has been chosen as it is an appropriate method to generate a theory or explanation from the analysis of the data, collected about this phenomenon (Corbin & Strauss, 2015).
Grounded theory is based on transcripts of interviews, in which potential themes need to be identified, through coding. First open coding, a form of inductive coding, has been conducted.
With this, coding starts from scratch and codes are created based on the qualitative data itself.
After open coding, axial coding has been performed. This is the process of linking codes together and identifying categories. After this, the last selective coding will be performed, which is the process of linking the axial categories, identifying one core theme. With all this, a theory can be formulated that offers an explanation to this specific phenomenon.
During and after conducting the interviews, the audio recordings have been transcribed using two transcribing tools: Amberscript and Sonix. The audio files have a duration between 22 and 30 minutes, resulting in 8 to 9 pages of transcription per interview. These ten
transcription have not been included in the appendices, but are available upon request.
Data analysis has been done using NVIVO for coding and labeling. Miles and Huberman (1994) describe codes as “tags or labels for assigning units of meaning to the descriptive or inferential information compiled during a study. Codes are usually attached to ‘chunks’ of varying size – words, phrases, sentences or whole paragraphs.” During the performance of the
17 initial open coding, the transcript has been read once more. As the paragraph to code represent an answer by the interviewee to a question, this initial coding has been based on the topic of the question being asked. The subject of the paragraph in question is already quite clear after all, e.g. one of the first questions asked in all interviews was: “What is the mission of your company?”. The answer to this question has been coded as ‘mission statement’ for all transcripts. In the next stage, axial coding, these codings have been compared, so categories may be identified, combing through all text under e.g. the code ‘mission statement’, trying to find out larger categories and by grouping different codes together that fall under the same category. Some codes from the initial coding have been found suitable to be merged. E.g. the codes ‘bicycle requirements’ and ‘scooter requirements’ have been categorized as “vehicle requirements’ and the codes ‘electric ambition’ and ‘becoming more sustainable’ have been grouped in the category ‘ambition’. By doing this, patterns can be found in the way sharing mobility platforms formulate their mission statement, or differences can be found in their answers related to other codes or categories, like ‘ambition’. It has been found that many of the interviewees mentioned sustainability as an important factor in their mission statement.
Also the use of electric vehicles or their electric ambition is something that might vary among companies. ‘Contribute to sustainability’ can be seen as an axial category, housing at least two codes, i.e. ‘mission statement’ and ‘ambition’. Finally, in the stage selective coding, the axial categories will be further grouped together to make one core category or theme. While the codes ‘sensors’ and ‘maintenance’ have been grouped under the category ‘monitoring’, one overarching theme has been recognized. In Appendix C, the coding scheme can be found.
Note that this process of coding and analyzing has been an iterative process rather than a linear one.
The analysis that has been performed helped to find patterns in business models and better understand their role in a circular economy. The results builds on existing literature on digital
18 sharing platforms and circular economy by providing an overview of numerous digital sharing mobility platforms active in the Dutch market. Furthermore, it provides a better understanding of business models in the sharing mobility industry and insight into circularity aspects of mobility sharing.
19 5. Results
A total of ten interviews have been conducted, of which four bike sharing platforms, one scooter sharing platform, three car sharing platform and two platforms that make use of multimodal mobility, i.e. both car and bike sharing services. This chapter presents the results derived from the interviews divided over the sub questions introduced in the first chapter. All quotes from or references to the companies in the text below has been checked with the corresponding company to guarantee discretion.
• What are the main business models of digital sharing mobilities implemented/available?
The first notable feature that most platforms share, is the age since foundation. Out of the sample of companies, there was only one that was founded before 2016, while the other nine were founded in or after 2016, of which 5 were founded in 2019 or 2020. OV-Fiets is
arguably one of the first bike sharing platforms in the Dutch market and probably the biggest player in bike sharing with a fleet size of 20.500 bikes and arose in 2008, after an acquisition by the Dutch Railway, which is a semi state-owned company.
In terms of proposition, all platforms are a service based company, which means the platforms let customers make use of their vehicles and are charged per time frame, either per minute, hour or day, or per amount of distance. While for some platforms, customers are expected to have a membership, others are membership free. Currently in the Dutch market, there are many bike and car sharing platforms to be found, compared to scooter sharing platforms which are quite limited with only three major players. Most platforms offer single modal mobility, so either bikes, scooter or cars only and focus on improving and expanding their business, before offering multimodal mobility. Hely, a sharing mobility platform, was
20 already active in exploiting both cars and bikes, while Juuve started recently offering bikes next to its cars.
“We want to make more livable space in cities by providing multimodal shared mobility so that the amount of cars in the city can be reduced. Not only by replacing several cars for shared cars but also by providing shared bicycles, either
regular city bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes and potentially, e-scooters and e-steps.”
Platforms use rates, to charge their customers, that are competitive to vehicle ownership, more specifically in car ownership. As one platform said:
“Another thing that might be good to know is pricing. It just has to be able to replace an own car. We don’t want to provide a car to the people that would not buy an own car. We really want to be an alternative for the people that would buy
a car or maybe even have a car currently. That is reflected in our pricing.”
Also a few platforms mentioned their profitability. One saying that with a usage per bike of 1.5 per day, a positive business case can be realized, although another mentioned that with 1200 to 5000 users per month, with a fleet size of 500 bikes, a positive business case has not yet been realized. As much as sustainability is at the core of many companies, one car sharing platform mentioned the following:
“We don’t want to do things that result in loss. So it’s more than an idealistic goal. We want to show that it’s possible and almost everyone says that it’s not profitable yet. You know, before
corona we had nice and positive figures, so it is possible.”
Platforms that have been founded or introduced in the Dutch market in 2020, in the midst of the corona pandemic, like HTM Fiets and Sixt Share, haven’t been able to see precorona
21 statistics, as for all platforms, the pandemic had considerable impact on the usage of their vehicle, because commuting has been almost nonexistent and more people have been working from home.
“Then you saw that basically everyone in the Netherlands was staying at home.
We were all scared. When people stay at home, commuting is also reduced. We saw that directly. So you really saw a large decrease in the amount of rides.”
Although corona has significantly decreased vehicle usage, some experience still some growth in total members during the pandemic, albeit from a lower base. One bike sharing platform said to have seen a drop of 50% in bike usage in 2020 compared to 2019. Customer acquisition is done differently across different companies. Six platforms mentioned to use social media and at least two mentioned to use Google Adwords. One car sharing platform said to mainly use their cars as a marketing vehicle. Two bike sharing platforms barely used any social media, but mainly made use of physical advertising, like flyers and coasters in bars.
“The more cars we have on the road, the more members we get. So the car, that’s our billboard.” – Fetch
• How does the role of digital technologies change in each of those models?
As virtually all platforms could be categorized as digital sharing platforms, meaning that they rely heavily on digital technologies. Out of the ten platforms, eight have a downloadable mobile app which is central to their business. Using this app, customers can register
themselves, see the availability of vehicles, book a vehicle and lock and unlock the vehicle.
Two platforms, both bike sharing concepts, do not make use of such an app, with reason. One bike sharing platform uses its website, instead of an app, as the customer’s interface, to make a reservation, pay, lock and unlock and return the bike.
“So you don’t need an app, but you can simply put the tool on the website. You can also have these functionalities in an app, but you can put this tool basically on every website. So for example, we are on the website of Connexxion.nl. (…) And
also on Mobipunt.net. You can put it at various VVV websites.” – Uw Deelfiets
Customer experience seems to be valued highly by all platforms. Out of the eight platforms using an app, five of them have an built-in rating functionality that asks to give a quick rating after a ride, often from one to five. The platform using a website, has a similar built-in functionality, while 3 platforms with an app, don’t have this functionality. OV-Fiets, the platform that doesn’t use an app or a website for booking, starting and closing a ride, but has one for locations and availability, also isn’t making use of digital rating inquiries after every ride, but conducts annual questionnaires and surveys. While for most platforms, giving an one-to-five rating of the sharing experience is optional, Fetch Car Sharing makes it
compulsory for its customers to give a rating after every ride.
“Customer satisfaction has to be very high. If the customer satisfaction is not high, you know your product is destined to fail.” – Uw Deelfiets
Four platforms said to perform regular, either monthly, quarterly or yearly, elaborate surveys and questionnaires to gain insights in their services, customer journey and to measure common metrics like NPS score. Other app functionalities that can be found across a few platforms are chat functions that can act as a helpdesk for customers.
The use of another type of digital technology, i.e. sensors, have been found to vary among the platforms. All platforms equip their fleet with smart locks, that can be locked and unlocked without the use of a physical key. Just two platforms, both bikes sharing platforms, did not equip their vehicles with a GPS tracker.
“For example, if you have a track-and-trace system on the bike or if you would like to, then it has to be placed on the exterior. That will then be removed. And when you implement it in the bike itself, you have the issue of the steel frame that causes
the signal to be reduced. So we’re still looking for a suitable solution.”
All car and scooter sharing platforms do make use of GPS, just like most bike platforms.
While one bike platform said not to make use of any sensors on the vehicle, aside from the smart lock and GPS, another platform said to have developed sensors that can measure not only location, but can also detect when the bike falls and how, humidity and particulates in the air and can measure road quality, possibly of interest for municipalities and companies.
Car and scooter platforms make use of vehicles that are evidently more technical and complex than bicycles and are more often than not, electric vehicles. The use of sensors in these
platforms and vehicles is much more of essential value. Battery level for example is something that is necessary for customers to know whether that amount suffices for their planned trip or not.
The digital platform all companies base their business on, is essential. It has been
mentioned multiple times by various platforms, that the way their business is set up, makes it accessible for customers. The fact that it’s possible to use a vehicle at any time of day, the fact that there’s no physical key, the speed and the ease of use, plays a major role in its
accessibility. A few platforms also mentioned Mobility as a Service (MaaS), as a platform that combines various modes of mobility (multimodal mobility), possibly even combining multiple providers of those vehicles. Google Maps and Apple Maps have been called as an umbrella platform that might have the possibility to generate directions in which vehicle sharing, whether that’s bike, scooters or cars, could be included.
“Look, basically we incorporated the option in our platform, that you can offer car sharing, scooter sharing, steps, let’s say. That option is there and we can make the
“Then the challenge is – something the government is involved with – to prevent that smart mobility users will have 80 smartphone mobility applications ten years from now. Preferably, let’s see how we can go to one or a few mobility platforms,
where all smartphone applications can connect with.” – Hely
“Now it’s not yet the case, but my expectation is that when Google and Apple Maps include various sharing mobilities in their navigation systems – and that its generated direction are adjusted drastically, so you don’t have to take just the car,
but you can also take the train and sharing mobility – then I will believe that it’s really changing.” – Uw Deelfiets
• How do these models differ in terms of circularity in the exploitation of natural and social resources?
All bike sharing platforms said to want to use bikes with a high robustness. Some sharing bikes can be found outside and are more prone to theft, compared to bikes that are stationed in a more protected area, e.g. in an enclosed parking garage.
“So we have been looking at a combination of robustness and comfort, where the bike should be easily adjustable to user’s different heights, with special wheels to
guarantee robustness, to prevent spokes getting broken and to prevent wheel wobble. The bike has an option for airless tires to prevent a flat tire. So the bike has been designed for minimal service and minimal chance of breakdown during
use.” – Hopperpoint
All bike platforms expect their bikes to perform for at least three years, some five, while some platforms’ vehicles are still in use after more than five years. One scooter platform says
25 to outperform the average scooter, in terms of life expectancy, up to eight years. Also there’s some discrepancy to be found in the way platforms own their fleet. Some work with vehicle lease companies, while others actually own their fleet. One bike sharing platform that works with one, are tied to lease contracts in which the vehicles are returned to the lease company after a fixed amount of years, often 3 years. Others own their vehicles and can decide for themselves at what point they want to sell or swap their vehicles for new ones. Two car sharing platforms have opposing views on this.
“None of them will last more than three years. We will remove them from our fleet because we simply want fresh cars. But sometimes cars will be removed within half
a year, just because they can be sold, for example.”
“The oldest cars are six years old. Preferably you drive as long as you can with it, because we have noticed that replacing it, is really not necessary. Especially when it’s the same model. (…) People really don’t notice the difference between a Golf
from today and one that’s six years old. They just don’t see that. So for us, it doesn’t really matter how old it is.”
In terms of maintenance, some bike and car sharing platforms do a regular vehicle check- up, some every 1.5 month, other every three months and some car platforms follow standard maintenance protocols from the manufacturer. Also one sharing platform is performing visual checks of their vehicles every two days and are being monitored remotely. Often, the
customer also has an option to let the platform know that there’s something wrong with a specific vehicle, in which the platform then responds. Two bike sharing platforms said to make use of people that have a distance to the labor market, e.g. people aged 65 and above or that have any form of disability, for the maintenance of their bikes.
“But we also register every bike with a code and with that, we know when it was introduced, where, how much it has rode and when maintenance has been done.”
26 Two platforms, one bike and one scooter platform, mentioned to physically swap the batteries their vehicles equip. For one platform, every two days a dedicated employee is swapping empty batteries with full batteries, driving around in an electric van. Uw Deelfiets has to replace batteries of its smart lock every three months, as the bike is not electrically powered.
Most of the bike sharing platforms use regular and not electric bikes. Two platforms use electric bikes aside from their regular bikes, while scooters are always electric and car platforms always include electric models, aside from some combustion engine cars in their fleet. Sixt Share uses a 100% electric fleet, just like Fetch, while Hely and Juuve also include non-electric cars. There’s at least one pragmatic reason to go for electric cars. One platform said to be eligible for a citywide parking permit, one has to have an electric sharing car. A reason to include combustion engine cars in one fleet is to offer a diverse range of cars, for that time one has to drive a bit further, although electric cars would suffice most of the time.
• To what extent does digital sharing mobility platforms play a role in circular economy within the Dutch market, in regards to circular economy principles?
Sustainability has been named to be at the core of the business for most platforms. At least six platforms mentioned reducing cars in the city, to be part of the mission of the company. Virtually all companies value sustainability highly. Reducing polluting cars from the city, CO2 emissions and traffic, offering the city more space and making cities more habitable and sustainable are things various platforms have said.
“In the end, our mission is of course to reduce the amount of cars, lower CO2 emissions, traffic out of the city and getting people moving. That is our ambition.”
To make vehicles last longer and more durable, (preventive) maintenance and monitoring are being used by various platforms, either proactively and regularly by the platform,
27 reactively after input from the customer or both. Digital technologies like sensors play a role here as they can measure possible damage or other unfavorable activities and notify the platform. Cars often already are equipped with numerous sensors and other technologies that can help with monitoring remotely. Bikes and scooters are limited with such sensors by default. Most bike platforms do not equip their vehicles with elaborate sensors, however, GPS and a smart lock are often included.
The role of the digital platform comes out evidently to be a key element in this market.
One car sharing platform said that the link is not between a platform in itself and a sustainable environment. It’s about the context of that specific platform or app.
“A digital platform is by definition a very cost efficient method of doing that, because you don’t need a counter and people. We never see our customers. Not when they register. Not when they drive. Only road side assistance sees them, so to
speak. That makes a big difference in costs. When it’s about sustainability, it’s often more expensive, it seems. A digital platform makes it possible to do it less
expensive and to reach more people in an easy way. Such a platform is super important as an enabler of what you do. We are not a platform. We are really a
service.” – Fetch
A few platforms mentioned the platform to be an enabler of and contributor to a circular economy. One sharing platform highlighted that its platform contributes to less cars in the streets and said that a car is being used by ten to twenty people per month.
“Now we see that by offering what we do, the transition to electric mobility is simply accelerated. The average age of our users, is well below thirty. In general,
people are definitely not going to – if they even would buy a car – choose an electric car for their first one, simply because it’s way too expensive. And those are
the people that can now drive electric cars.”
28 One bike sharing platform gave some nuance to bike sharing’s contribution to
sustainability in case people are using the bike only for the last mile connection to get from where their car is parked to their final destination, just to avoid parking costs or parking scarcity in the city centre, as this doesn’t seem to be a very sustainable solution. What has been called a solution by multiple platforms, is one platform that combines all modes of sharing mobilities together, increasing the accessibility even more, possibly even integrated in existing mobility platforms like Google and Apple Maps.
“The more attractive you can make something, the faster the transition from polluting mobility to clean sharing mobility can take place. So in that sense, such a
platform – and it’s being developed already and those exist already – is a pretty good solution.”
29 6. Discussion
The purpose of this study is to gain insight in digital sharing mobility platforms and its role in a circular economy, by exploring various elements of platforms active in the Dutch market. This study has been conducted because there’s no Dutch specific extant literature about vehicle sharing platforms and its contribution to sustainability.
6.1 Main results 6.1.1 Business models
The trend in sharing mobility shows an increasing adoption of users in this market. In general, digital platforms have been popping up the last few years, more specifically in the Netherlands. Out of the ten interviews held, half of the platforms were founded in 2019 or 2020. This shows the newness of this market, as it hasn’t matured yet and entrepreneurs are trying to set foot in the not yet fully developed sharing mobility market. Another possible explanation of the rise of mobility platforms, are that they’re all technology-based. A mobile app is a relatively simple and relatively novel mechanism of offering services to customers, while being cost efficient at the same time. Not only for offering services, users can
practically do anything that needs to be done, via the app. With a continuously rising adoption of smartphones and an increasingly tech savvy population, exploiting apps for a service based company, seems the appropriate way of conducting business.
While pricing and the way users are charged are quite similar across different platforms, profitability is not yet a given. There seems to be a narrative in the background that says that (electric) vehicle sharing does not yet result in positive financial numbers. One needs to keep in mind that although the digital platform is a cost efficient way of service provision, the acquisition of vehicles may not be so low-priced. It seems that there are two options: 1) buy and 2) lease, with each having its own set of pros and cons. When replacing vehicles, one might be less in control when a lease contract has been signed, while there is an example of a
30 car sharing platform that is using the same lease cars for more than 5 years. The longer
vehicles can be used, the more people can make use of it during its span of life and thus possibly, the more sustainable.
For upcoming entrepreneurs, this young market might offer an interesting opportunity to meet a growing customer need for sustainable transportation by exploiting cost-efficient apps.
In terms of pricing, making sharing vehicles, and especially cars, at minimum as financially interesting to purchasing and owning a car, would be beneficial for one’s business. Vehicle acquisition might be a major expense, so conducting a proper cost-benefit analysis would be recommended.
Overall, digital sharing mobility platforms seem to use similar business models. The way customers are charged are alike, however paying a membership fee is not common place everywhere, but makes a community-feel possible. Perhaps the biggest difference can be found in the activities platforms are involved with in terms of technology implementation and offerings of types of vehicles, as some are electric and some are not.
6.1.2 Digital technologies
Maintenance and monitoring are activities platforms do to extend the lifespan of their vehicles. Platforms that need to replace batteries in their bikes manually, every so many time, can make use of this opportunity to also do a brief visual check of the vehicle in question, which at least two platforms are doing. Sensors are technologies that can help with this and notify the platform when repair or maintenance is needed. Although their potential usefulness is evident, not all platforms have adopted sensors to the same extent. Where some struggle to implement a GPS sensor in their bikes, others don’t seem to have any problem integrating all kinds of sensors, some measuring things of which its usefulness is yet to be discovered. This variance in sensor applications among different platforms, shows that knowledge about these technology implementations is not equally distributed.
31 Technology also makes is possible to measure customer experience much faster and much more often than traditional methods like lengthy questionnaires. It’s rather surprising that not all app-based platforms have a built-in rating functionality after use, an option that doesn’t seem to be that complicated to implement. The role of digital technologies differ among platforms. While some haven’t embraced the full potential of digital technologies or app functionalities to extend vehicle’s lifespan or to improve services, most have built their business around a digital platform. The digital platform, whether it’s an app, website or based on another technology, is essential. Not only for cost reduction, but also for customer
acquisition. The accessibility (not time-bound, distributed locations and no physical keys) and speed are key to the success of these platforms, compared to conventional renting of vehicles.
This might be alarming to these brick-and-mortar rental stores as competition is getting increasingly tough. But the same is for these digital platforms. Like one sharing platform said, it should not come to the situation where there are eighty different platforms, from all sorts of providers, for all sorts of vehicles. It might be a matter of time until an all-encompassing mobility platform arises, combining multimodal shared and public mobility from various sharing mobility providers, while offering navigation directions.
6.1.3 Natural and social resources
Not surprisingly, for many platforms, one of the requirements their vehicles have to meet is a high robustness. The implications are twofold: cost reduction and waste reduction. As a bike may be more prone to break down during use than a scooter or car, various platforms have found components of their bikes to be worth upgrading, benefitting its durability, like the chain, wheels and tires. Aside from using high quality materials for its vehicles, another way to extend the vehicle’s lifespan is to perform regular maintenance. Instead of disposing an entire vehicle when one component is impaired, maintenance or replacing that specific component can be done, with minimal waste and minimal costs. So it’s to be predicted that
32 (preventive) maintenance is part of most platform’s supporting business activities. Two
platforms are superior in terms of inclusivity, as they employ people who are at a distance to the labor market, i.e. people aged 65 and above or people with any form of disability, for repairing the vehicles. Designing its vehicles for durability and quality, and repair and maintenance are elements of slowing the product cycle. This is an important contributor to circularity, which virtually all platforms make use of.
6.1.4 Role circular economy
Offering a product as a service is at the core of sharing mobility as users are charged per minute, hour or day or per amount of distance. While vehicle ownership results in a lot of idle time wherein the vehicle is not being used for what it’s designed for, i.e. when parked, sharing mobility and not owning a vehicle has the potential to reduce the overall amount of vehicles.
That is what virtually all platforms aim for, before anything else, reducing the amount of cars in the city and reducing emissions. Sustainability is said to be at the core of most platforms.
Not only are certain platforms utilizing mechanisms to slow the product cycle, mobility sharing is engaging in closing the cycle to some extent as well, another circular economy principle. An example of this is that sharing vehicles by definition is enabling and
incentivizing users to return the product after use. A sharing car can be used by up to twenty users in a month, after all, instead of solely by the owner of the vehicle. Slowing the product cycle is one of the circular economy principles (Konietzko et al., 2020; Kristensen et al., 2021). Design for durability and quality, design for repair and maintenance and offer product as a service, are all examples of slowing the product cycle that is relevant to mobility sharing.
The aim of this research is to explore the role of digital sharing mobility platforms in a circular economy. It is safe to say the these sharing platforms do play a role in a circular economy, as long as circular principles are utilized. This research has shown that multiple concrete examples of at least two main circular economy principles, i.e. slow and close, are
33 touched upon. Vehicle sharing is inherently more sustainable than vehicle ownership and is reflected by the platform’s mission statements. Digital technologies are tools that make providing services to users possible. Sensors make monitoring remotely possible, with the potential of extending vehicle’s lifecycle. The digital platform act as an enabler for more sustainable behavior, as accessibility for users is high and pricing can be competitive to ownership in certain cases.
6.2 Strengths of this study
This research has been based on qualitative data derived from ten interviews conducted in April and March of 2021. From the list of thirty platforms, data has been collected from one in three. This seemed to be sufficient and to be an appropriate amount, in the way that many elements have been confirmed by others and data saturation seemed to have been reached.
Speaking to the platforms directly, either to the founder, manager of the sharing mobility department or another spokesperson, contributes to this study’s reliability. Platforms from all modes of mobility, bikes, scooters and cars, have been interviewed which benefits this research’s reliability as well. Considering the research design, the setup and preparations of the interviews have been executed carefully, also in regards to their discretion and privacy.
The semi-structured interviews gave the participants the opportunity to elaborate on certain topics and the interviewer to ask follow-up questions. The results of this study is much more difficult to replicate with an alternative setup, like a quantitative research design or with a structured interview. As a consequence of this explorative and semi-structured interview approach, additional topics arose. One platforms mentioned customer’s behavior and more specifically, violation, to be one of the big challenges to tackle. Although not always as relevant for this research as this specific example does not relate to sustainability, circularity or digital technologies, it’s still interesting information and possibly of value.
34 6.3 Limitations and future research suggestions
Just like all research approaches and designs, certain limitations apply to this study. The semi-structured interview approach that has been chosen, might have led to a discrepancy in elaboration of answers from the interviewees. This might have result in more, but not
necessarily more relevant, data from one platform than from another. Also, all ten interviews have been conducted virtually via Zoom and Teams, so it wasn’t possible to have a physical conversation with the participants, possibly missing out on some other nonverbal suggestions or social cues. Furthermore, only companies that have been included in the list of digital sharing mobility platforms, that has been created in the beginning of this research, have been contacted and had the opportunity to participate. There’s a possibility that the initial list is not quite exhaustive and missing out other platforms. Also, as not all platforms have replied to and some have denied the request of participation for the interviews, the possibility exist that valuable data have not been included. The question could be asked whether the results would have deviate significantly when this study would’ve included a different sample of
companies. However, looking at the results of this study wherein various statements from different companies have confirmed each other, it’s doubtful that it would’ve significantly affect present results.
The results of this study confirm that sharing mobility platforms have a role to play in a circular economy in the Netherlands. With this information, platforms would be able to learn about concrete examples it might not have thought of yet. Also with this confirmation, society and governmental institutions can look at mobility sharing concepts as one of the solutions for the polluting linear vehicle cycles and a step towards a cleaner, more circular economy. This study has solely looked at mobility players in the Dutch market. Literature about circular principles and sustainable practices of sharing mobility platforms in other European countries is also very limited. Suggestions for further research include extending the scope by looking
35 at different or multiple countries, which might lead to slightly different results, as culture and customer’s behavior are different across different countries. As this market is not yet fully matured, this landscape of sharing mobility might look different a few years from now. How this transition from vehicle sharing to a mature market of MaaS platforms takes place and how this evolution shapes our circular economy, are certainly thought-provoking research suggestions.
36 7. Conclusion
With an increasingly amount of people living in cities, sustainable business models have been popping up in the form of digital sharing mobility platforms. Sharing vehicles have the potential to reduce the overall amount of vehicles, reduce traffic and CO2 emissions. Sharing platforms make more efficient use of idle vehicles possible by allowing it to be used by other people than just the owner. Contrary to traditional renting of mobility, sharing mobility is often organized via a digital platform, available 24/7, not only during office hours and vehicle pickup locations are widely distributed, not centralized. Digital sharing platforms is a
relatively novel field of study and particularly from a circular economy point of view, it’s a just emerging stream. The aim of this study is to find an answer to the main research question:
To what extent does digital sharing mobility platforms play a role in circular economy within the Dutch market, in regards to circular economy principles? To add to the current debate on digital sharing platforms and its role in a circular economy, a deeper view has been adopted, specifically in mobility. This research explored the concept of sharing economy from a circular economy perspective in the context of sharing mobility in the Netherlands. Currently, no extant peer reviewed literature offers an examination of sharing mobility within circular economy in the Dutch market.
Interviews have been conducted with ten sharing mobility platforms, ranging from bike, scooter and car platforms. Platforms offer their vehicles as a service, where users are charged per minute, hour or day or per amount of distance. While vehicle ownership results in a lot of idle time wherein the vehicle is not being used for its purpose, i.e. when parked, sharing mobility and not owning a vehicle has the potential to reduce the overall amount of vehicles.
That is what virtually all platforms aim for, before anything else, reducing the amount of cars in the city and reducing emissions. Sustainability is said to be at the core of most platforms.
Not only are certain platforms utilizing mechanisms to slow the product cycle, mobility
37 sharing is engaging in closing the product cycle to some extent as well, another circular economy principle. An example of this is that sharing vehicles by definition is enabling and incentivizing users to return the product after use. A sharing car can be used by up to twenty users in a month, after all, instead of solely the owner of the vehicle.
It is safe to say the these sharing platforms do play a role in a circular economy, as long as circular principles are utilized. This research has shown that multiple concrete examples of at least two main circular economy principles, i.e. slow and close, are touched upon.
Examples of how sharing mobility platforms slow the product cycle is through its design for durability and quality, design for repair and maintenance and by offering a product as a service. Examples of how sharing mobility platforms support closing the product cycle is through enabling and incentivizing users to return the product after use. Vehicle sharing is inherently more sustainable than vehicle ownership and is reflected by the platform’s mission statements. Digital technologies are tools that make providing services to users possible.
Sensors make monitoring remotely possible, with the potential of extending vehicle’s
lifecycle. The digital platform act as an enabler for more sustainable behavior, as accessibility for users is high and pricing can be competitive to ownership in certain cases. This research contributed to the understanding of digital sharing mobility platforms in the Netherlands and what their role is in sustainability and circularity. The results confirmed that sustainability is highly valued and often intentionally part of their mission. This might give society, businesses and governments confidence in adopting and accepting sharing mobility as one of the
solutions for sustainable transportation. Digital sharing mobility platforms contribute to a more sustainable environment and play a role in the transition from the mainstream linear economic model, towards a more circular economy, by slowing and closing the product cycle.
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