Smart Solutions

Ride-sharing Benches

Ride-sharing benches are equipped with signs of destinations that local people can hold up in order to get a free ride from a passing vehicle heading in the same direction.

Implemented inGrafing

Country : Germany

What’s the solution?

The principle of this community-led local transport concept is quite simple: the ride-sharing benches are located in highly visible public spaces. Signs with possible destinations are attached to them. If someone wants a ride, they simply hold up the sign with their desired destination and can then get a ride from a vehicle that stops at the bench and is heading in the same direction. If the destination is not on the signs, ride seekers can also make their own. If someone waiting doesn’t want to take a ride with the person who is stopping, they can politely tell them that they are waiting for someone they know.

Photo credit: Michael Springer

What makes it smart?

A cheap, local mobility concept, ride-sharing benches are a simple smart solution that respond directly to the challenge of sparse, underfunded public transportation services in many rural areas based on a form of social innovation.

The ride-sharing benches deliver a self-organised concept of mobility, which conforms neither to the logic of the private, market-based economy, nor to the public, state-based economy. Instead, they can be understood as commons, a concept described by U.S. Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom. as a social practice of self-management of a resource by a community of users rather than by the state or the market.

The social impact of the concept should not be underestimated offering the following advantages:

  • Empowering rural citizens to take control of their mobility and provide fair, inclusive access to the privilege of being mobile for people who cannot drive a car themselves (e.g. people without a car or driver's license), are not allowed to (e.g. young people) or do not want to (e.g. environmentally conscious people). It thus provides for improved spatial mobility, which is increasingly necessary for the fulfilment of everyday supply needs as well as for the pursuit of professional or leisure activities.
  • Creating and building bonds of social cohesion and community among the local population who also get to know each other better while sharing rides. Together, the joy of giving and being given is enjoyed.

Ecologically, the concept is smart because it avoids the waste associated with having under-occupied cars driving around with higher CO2 emissions per person. The fact that less individual journeys results in less traffic and less noise is also a positive effect of the ride-sharing benches.

How is the solution implemented?

  1. The first step is to engage local stakeholders (including the local authorities, citizens groups, relevant NGOs and potentially local transport companies around the concept.
  2. Suitable locations for ride-sharing benches should be identified based on criteria including good visibility of waiting people, easy location for drivers to stop and possibility to anchor the bench.
  3. A local carpenter/contractor should be commissioned to produce the materials needed for each bench and the set of signs to relevant destinations in the local area.
  4. Local sponsors should be identified to cover the costs of each ride-sharing bench
  5. The municipal authorities should be engaged to ensure not only the correct permissions to install the benches, but also typically to carry out the installation.
  6. Promotion and awareness-raising are crucial to engage local people to participate – both as people offering and taking rides.

In what local context has it been applied?

Grafing is located in the Upper Bavarian foothills of the Alps, about 32 km southeast of Munich, currently with about 13,800 inhabitants. The town is located in the district of Ebersberg, in one of the economically strongest districts of the Munich area. Grafing has several schools, sports clubs, churches, monuments, shopping facilities, service providers and a wide range of cultural activities such as festivities and events.

Grafing's charming location is characterised by a valley open to the south and the hilly terminal moraine landscape in the surrounding area.  Grafing offers hiking and nature lovers many opportunities for a wide variety of activities. Meanwhile a well-developed network of bike paths in and around Grafing as well as in the whole region east of Munich is perfectly suited for small and larger tours.

Also good road and rail connections make Grafing an attractive city for day trips to the nearby alpine region, to the "Bavarian Sea" the Chiemsee, to Salzburg or to the many sights in the southeast Bavarian region.

The Transition Town Initiative Grafing is constantly looking for new ways to make citizens' everyday lives more environmentally friendly through sustainable, local solutions. The area of mobility is a major contributor to climate change. It is against this background that the idea of ride-sharing benches was born.

Who was behind the implementation?

The initiators of the project are the Grafinger Transition Town Initiative. In the spirit of the international Transition movement, it is their wish to organise life locally in such a way that present and future generations can live well, in which Grafing becomes a place that can "take care of itself" better in times of climate change and shortage of cheap oil, and where people enjoy living.

The ride-sharing benches initiative is moreover supported by the city administration, the sponsors, the producers, the carpool bench sponsors, and of course by all citizens who use the benches.

What was the local journey?

  • First, a few walks and bike rides were used to scout out suitable places where the benches could be placed. These were selected on the basis of various criteria, such as the visibility of the benches and good opportunities to stop.
  • It was agreed with the municipal authorities that they would take care of the placement of the benches and the financial handling of the sponsorships. It also advanced money for the construction of the first benches, which gave the Transition Initiative more time to find sponsors.
  • For the construction of the benches, a holistic concept was planned, which aimed to took into account the social dimension of the project. A local social institution was approached for the production, but unfortunately declined the offer due to the relatively small size of the order. The initiative therefore decided to have the benches produced by a local carpenter. This carpenter used weather-resistant lark wood (taken from an old beer garden bench), which is why the benches do not need to be painted or even dismantled in winter. In addition, pictograms were attached to the benches to counteract possible language barriers, and ceramic stones with the names of the sponsors were placed in front of the benches.
  • The initiators had to obtain permission to set up the benches. For the benches on public property, they turned to the city, for the benches at the train station to the German railroad service, and for the benches on church property to the church.
  • Several benches were installed at various locations in the town of Grafing. Each bench was assigned a project partner who would occasionally check on the bench and report to the project supervisor, in case there is something wrong with it.
  • Initially, the direction signs were made from car sheet metal blanks embossed by an outside vendor. However, since these proved too attractive as ‘trophies’; they were later no longer embossed, but hand inscribed with brush and varnish.
  • A lot of energy was also put into public relations. With each inauguration of new benches that took place over the course of several months, a press article appeared in the local newspapers. At the inauguration of the first bench, the mayor and the district administrator were supportively present.
  • In addition, there were various actions of the Transition Initiative to make the ride-sharing benches better known. For example, in the summer of 2018, there was a ride-sharing day that was advertised at the local civic festival. Interested citizens were invited to sit on a bench set up there and simply give ride-sharing a try.
  • The ride-sharing bench was also promoted at the local crafts market, in the presence of the Federal Minister of Transport. His words of support, coupled with a photo of him and his party colleagues on the bench, were later reported in the press. Eventually, the ride-sharing benches became so famous that radio and television reported on the smart mobility idea.
  • The Transition Town Initiative homepage has a description of the project, photos and videos, and links to media coverage. There is also a flyer introducing the ride-sharing benches.
  • Meanwhile, the concept is part of a cross-county project of the Ebersberg district office to improve mobility options in the district. One of the future visions here is that the ride-sharing benches can be displayed in the mobile app of the German railroad service.

One of the most important challenges in the implementation process is the acceptance of the population. Some citizens expressed their concerns about the safety of the mobility concept. Various measures have been proposed to increase the safety of the ride.  First of all, it is pointed out that car drivers are not obliged  to take waiting people, nor are waiting people obliged to get into stopping cars. In addition to encouraging each person to decide for themself whether they want to facilitate or take a ride other precautions are suggested.  For example, rideshare passengers can ask the driver before the ride if they can take a photo of the license plate and then send it to a close person. A less digitalised solution with a similar effect are stickers that regular drivers can put on their cars.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • Fewer CO2 emissions caused by passenger traffic
  • More social exchange between the citizens of the city of Grafing
  • Improved mobility offer in the city of Grafing and the region

What does it bring the village/community?

  • Improving the ability of people to live in Grafing through improved access to work and leisure offerings in the surrounding areas.
  • Increased environmental awareness among the local population resulting in increased sustainable consumption and civic engagement for climate protection
  • Enhanced social cohesion at local level through greater contacts and interactions
  • Increasing the level of awareness and engagement with Grafing’s Transition Town Initiative
  • Effective contribution to the local-level implementation of Europe-wide and national climate protection plans, including inclusion in the overall concept for a lower-emission, more intelligent, more economical and safer mobility in the district of Ebersberg.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

Physical infrastructure: The main direct costs for the ride-sharing benches were incurred in providing the physical infrastructure, including the materials for the benches and signs, funding for the labour to build the benches and emboss the signs, and for the placement of the benches. Maintenance costs are minimal due to the high-quality material.

Promotion: Other costs are also incurred in the area of advertising, however this can obviously vary from case to case. This can include publicising the benches at various events or producing content (short films, flyers, website etc.) for the presentation of the project.

Note also that, before the project got underway and also during its implementation, many working hours went into its conceptualisation.

Financial needs:

Initial/set-up costs for the physical infrastructure associated with 6 benches: 6000€. The 1000€ per bench is made up of the following costs:

o 800 Euro for the larch wood bench produced by a local carpenter

o 126 Euro for 9 direction signs

o 74 Euro for the sponsor stone or the sponsor brass plate

Ongoing/recurring annual maintenance costs: less than 50€

Funding received:
Associations and local entrepreneurs6,000 €The sponsors either financed one bench each (1000), or shared the financing of one bench in pairs (500 each).
City of GrafingN/AThe city of Grafing financed the installation of the benches.

Human resources

• Volunteers of the local Transition Town initiative, which developed the alternative local transport concept with about 4-8 people and engaged the municipal authorities

• A carpenter or other local producer of the required benches and signs.

• Municipal works teams needed for installation and maintenance of the benches.

Physical resources

Physical infrastructure requirements concern:

• Locations where the benches are located with good: visibility, stop options, and possibility of anchoring the benches in the ground

• The advertising: internet, website, flyers

What to do…

  • Use the benches yourself, so that you also know what they are worth and do not run the risk of underestimating their multiple added value for the local population;
  • Prepare yourself for criticism of your project by considering its positive effects, which you can cite in conversations;
  • Accept possible concerns of the local population as constructive criticism and try to find solutions to the problems raised;
  • Share testimonials.

and not to do

  • Don’t be held responsible for everything: The local population itself needs to take care of a responsible use of the ride-sharing benches;
  • Don't be easily dissuaded from your idea by criticism from others;
  • The use of imprinted car plates could promote the loss of signs due to the high collector's value of the plates.

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