Every day traffic jams in New York, Seoul, Munich and London pump exhaust into the air. The German city of Karlsruhe is leading the way in innovative transportation and is the new carsharing capital of Germany.
Anja Orth weaves her bike through the crowded streets of Karlsruhe and points to one of the more than 150 carsharing parking stations which are dotted throughout the city. "Most of the stations are placed with very easy access to public transport," she said in an interview with DW. "They are very close to bus stops and tram stops."
Orth heads up a private carsharing company called Stadtmobil. In order to join, potential members have to pay a 330 euros (430 dollars) deposit as well as a registration fee. Clients book the cars over the phone or use an online form.
"Once you have booked a car, you go the deposit box and hold your card up to it. It opens and you get the key," she explained. "We maintain a huge range of different cars, low emission cars, compact cars, medium-sized cars, and full-sized vans."
A proud carsharing club member in the city of Weimar, where the market has doubled in th past two years
The cars cost different amounts, depending on their size. A mini costs 98 cents an hour, plus 19 cents per kilometer, with fuel included in the price. Carsharing works out to be more cost effective than owning a car if you drive less than 150 km a week.
Carsharing in Karlsruhe started about twenty years ago. In its early days, there were only a few vehicles available, but Stadtmobil now has more than 500 cars and 8,000 customers. The last few years in particular have seen numbers boom, says Anja Orth. "Fuel is getting more and more expensive and maintaining your own car is expensive," she explained.
On the other side of Karlsruhe, Angeline Watson is preparing dinner for her two children. Her family decided to get rid of their car and join Stadtmobil a couple of years ago. "Karlsruhe is a city where riding bikes is really easy, arguably easier than driving a car. And if we want to go a longer distance, then we take the tram or the train. We really only use carsharing for spontaneous weekend trips," she told DW.
Experts say carsharing is particularly sucessful in cities such as Karlsruhe, which have good public transportation systems and well-maintained cycling routes. According to the German Carsharing Association Karlsruhe has the best carsharing programs in Germany, followed by Dusseldorf, Munich and Stuttgart.
Carsharing has largely been marketed to individuals, but service is attracting an increasing number of corporate clients. The Karlsruhe City Council has hopped on board. City mayor Klaus Stapf says the service suits them because its convenient and employees don't waste time searching for a vehicle.
A carshare member picks up his keys at a deposit box
"The network of locations is very good," he said in an interview with DW. "Internet booking is very easy and this is important. You can go on the internet and see, 'ah, this is free'. Ten minutes later you are sitting in it."
There are an estimated 10 billion vehicles on the world's roads - and that figure is set to double by 2020. That means more traffic jams, more pollution and more competition for parking. But with cities like Shangahi, Paris and London embracing carsharing as a way to reduce congestion, perhaps there is hope for a cleaner transportation future.