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3 Questions For Falk Fernbach Managing SocialCar In Luxembourg

Find transport alternatives. Increase use of collective transport. Draw up business plans for new mobility service models. Use social media. Luxembourg is among the 10 cities in Europe working on the SocialCar project. We asked Falk Fernbach to detail the initiative and how Luxembourg is positioning itself on mobility issues.
(Featured Image: Falk Fernbach / Image Credit: Olivier Minaire)
What is the purpose of SocialCar?

SocialCar is a European research and innovation project that seeks to assimilate carpooling into existing mobility systems by means of powerful planning algorithms and integration of big data from public transport, carpooling and crowd sourcing. In other words, SocialCar develops a user-oriented platform for planning, booking and integrated payment, combining carpooling and other on-demand services with regular collective transport, in an effort to mainstream the concept of public-private co-modal urban transport. The project unites ITS developers, social and economic scientists, transport engineers, carpoolers and public authorities from Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Poland, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Spain and Belgium. The key mobility issue that all the regions hope to address via SocialCar is mitigating traffic in and around the city by reducing the large number of people travelling into the city using private vehicles rather than public transport or carsharing.

“Currently, commuting trips into Luxembourg are dominated by solo-car drivers at around 80% of the mode share.”
What are the project challenges?

As Concept Factory is mainly involved in the challenges that Luxembourg encounters, I will focus on the local challenges. Luxembourg has the second highest number of cross-border commuters in the EEA (European Economic Area). There are more than 160,000 people that commute to Luxembourg every day. Currently, commuting trips into Luxembourg are dominated by solo-car drivers at around 80% of the mode share. As a result, Luxembourg experiences severe parking shortages, congestion during rush hours, high carbon dioxide levels, etc.

“Projections say that the number of cross-border employees will grow by 25% over the next six years to more than 200,000 in 2020.”

Commuters play a major role in Luxembourg’s economy by making up almost 44% of Luxembourg’s workforce. Convenient access to the country will increasingly play an even greater role in Luxembourg’s economy. Projections say that the number of cross-border employees will grow by 25% over the next six years to more than 200,000 in 2020.

“We cannot continuously build new roads or increase the size of our existing roads.”

We all have to agree that Luxembourg cannot increase the size of its territory and that we cannot continuously build new roads or increase the size of our existing roads. New roads will generate new drivers, resulting in unchanged traffic intensity. The concept is called induced demand, which signifies that the increasing supply of something (like roads) makes people want it even more.

How to improve mobility in Luxembourg?

Smart services allow people to combine and share effectively all available means of transport. These services have to be based on smart journey planning information while offering travel alternatives that include connections from carpooling and other on-demand mobility service options at both ends of the public transport journey. Solutions should also provide real-time updates on delays and disruptions, offering instant re-planning of journey options to the destination. Inhere the true potential lies in targeting solo-car drivers by offering a solution that outperforms their car, either on speed, comfort or cost.

“SocialCar includes travel options by a wide range of alternative mobility services such as carpooling, bike-sharing, taxi, car sharing, etc. for first and last mile connections to public transport services.”
Does SocialCar address the challenge of solo-car drivers?

Yes, and furthermore SocialCar does not adversely affect existing mobility services. On the contrary, it identifies business synergies between conventional and alternative transport providers. In its journey planning results, SocialCar includes travel options by a wide range of alternative mobility services such as carpooling, bike-sharing, taxi, car sharing, etc. for first and last mile connections to public transport services. This increases demand for such mobility services from a largely untapped segment of the market such as solo-car drivers. By including such alternative mobility services in journey planning, SocialCar raises awareness amongst travelers that these services exist and can be used for part of their journey. It reduces uncertainty in their use by providing real-time updates on their availability and information on how to book them. Barriers to their use will be removed by making payment simpler and more convenient through the SocialCar app. It also has the potential to bring together SocialCar users with similar journey needs that are willing to share the cost of a taxi journey.

“We have to come to the conclusion that the innovative solutions presently available are not accepted by the general public.”
Aren’t there already solutions that provide such services?

Not really. Of course there are carsharing apps, journey planners… but there aren’t any solutions that are able to cover and integrate effectively all of the available services. A mobility service requires a single platform that gives access to all the services and means of transport, allowing travel options to be considered based on individual criteria such as price, speed, comfort and flexibility. By looking at the numbers, we have to come to the conclusion that the innovative solutions presently available are not accepted by the general public. I am not saying that changing someone’s behavior is easy, but services have to outperform the comfort and flexibility of private car usage. Users must perceive that such mobility services actually make their lives better if we expect them to change their long-held commuting habits and adopt new modes of transportation.

“We hope to bring real change to Luxembourg, either by enabling innovation or by supporting true innovation to flourish.”
Will SocialCar succeed in Luxembourg?

One has to love this question. Success always relates to the objectives. When we introduced SocialCar, the vast majority of people thought that we aimed to build an application that would revolutionize the mobility sector in Luxembourg. Yes, of course  we are developing an application, but, especially in Luxembourg, the principal goal is to showcase how such an application could work in terms of data collection and management, how and by whom it could be financed, which actors have to collaborate, and soon. All this knowledge and information is communicated and distributed among the stakeholders in order to share knowledge and experience. By doing so, we hope to bring real change to Luxembourg, either by enabling innovation or by supporting true innovation to flourish.


This article was first published in the Summer 2016 issue of SILICON magazine. Be the first to read SILICON articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.

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