A DriveNow BMW stands in front of a residential building

Share, drive and enjoy.

For a long time Milan’s inner city resembled a hub of unhealthy air and impending traffic collapse. That’s all over now: the young generation in Italy is turning to car sharing as the new mobility - and is spreading this way of life throughout Europe.

Anyone entering the video room of the traffic surveillance office in the Italian city of Milan should at the same time be listening to the lively Italian Symphony by composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The sounds of its strings and wind instruments reflect the flow of movements of passers-by and vehicles on their daily journey through the Italian city. One person parks a car in one of the increasingly free parking spaces and continues on foot, the other has already been told via app that the newly parked vehicle is free, hops in, opens up the parking space again – and drives to another part of the city. It is a coming and going - an almost seamless transition from one means of transport to another.

These picturesque descriptions are confirmed by the statistics: Hardly any car in the core area of Milan’s city centre is parked for more than 15 minutes. Somebody always seems to be waiting to use the vehicle. It is almost like a choreography that translates the proverbial Italian elegance into flowing movement.

This is possible primarily because people in Milan’s inner city use car sharing offerings. “Having your own car is no longer a status symbol here,” says the former mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia. Instead, a dense network of car sharing services is available. SHARE NOW, the joint car sharing service of the BMW Group and Daimler AG, is one of the largest providers, soon to be offering 1,500 vehicles.

The fact that the city of 1.4 million inhabitants is now the trendsetter in sustainable mobility is partly due to consistent urban regulation. Milan was long infamous for its bad air. Enjoying an espresso near the cathedral, admiring Renaissance masterpieces in the Pinacoteca di Brera or strolling in front of the luxurious shop windows in Via Monte Napoleone - for a long time all this was not very pleasurable because of the exhaust fumes and the congested streets. For generations, most Milanese people had taken it for granted that they would have their own car: They were proud of having their own vehicle. And it was fine for it to have an older combustion engine – as long as it was stylish. Exhaust gases weren’t an issue of concern.

Seven years ago it came to the “cesura”, a remarkable change in urban development. Because the increasing number of cars kept causing collapse in the inner city, the authorities imposed a city toll. Since then, drivers have had to pay money every time they drive into the city centre. At the beginning of 2019, the rules were tightened once again: diesel cars are no longer allowed to drive anywhere in the extended city area if they do not have a particulate filter. Old petrol-driven engines are no longer allowed either. This helped to remedy the smog - and opened up the market for car sharing.

“For people who only come to Milan for one or two years, it doesn’t make sense to buy their own car,” says Andrea Leverano, Managing Director of SHARE NOW Italy. “Younger adults rent out their flats through AirBnB, and they in turn use temporary coliving offerings in other cities around the world. For the young generation of Milanese, according to Leverano, it’s perfectly natural to apply this sharing approach to transportation as well. “More than 35 percent of our users are younger than 30, digitally competent and internationally focussed,” says Leverano.

SHARE NOW Italy is filling the demand for this new form of mobility: For example, there are no large-format posters advertising powerful SUVs. Instead, the company is increasingly using social media to provide information, drawing attention not only to the advantages of car sharing itself, but also to other important service offerings. “Above all, this includes an app that we are constantly adapting to keep up with the times,” says Leverano. “High usability is key here. Important information has to be locatable in just a few clicks. When a car is on its way, our customers expect to see where it is in real time.” The environmental aspect also plays a major role for SHARE NOW customers. 20 cars in the fleet are electric - and are increasingly in demand. The number of electric vehicles such as the BMW i3 or the MINI Electric is being constantly increased.

But Leverano is thinking even further, far beyond Milan’s city limits. “Because our target group is mobile, they change their place of residence very frequently. SHARE NOW should already be available in the new city they move to.” And fleet vehicles are also available at airports. “For all this the drivers throughout Europe will only need one account”, says Leverano. And if car sharing is not yet available, then the young customers will become brand ambassadors on their own behalf, the manager hopes. “Young people don’t mince their words: they will demand more opportunities for car sharing from politicians and the city authorities.” After all, even those who don’t use the service will benefit.