Living (almost) car-free in Gothenburg

23 February 2021

The image of the suburban house with a private car parked outside has long been a symbol of success in Europe.

But in Gothenburg, one new housing development aims to get rid of this image by providing apartments with no private car parking.

Housing company Riksbyggen was given permission from the city government to build the new Viva complex without the 0.5 – 0.2 parking spaces per household usually required. Instead, the 132-unit buildings, perched on the hills in the city’s Johanneberg district, boast large bicycle parking spaces for regular bicycles, e-bikes, adapted cycles and e-cargo bikes.

“Building a house that was car-free was an important part of our sustainability ambition and something we made very clear to potential apartment buyers from the beginning, says Charlotta Brolin, sustainability expert at Riksbyggen. “We never experienced that the lack of private parking spaces was a big issue for them, maybe because we also communicated that there would be alternative mobility solutions.”

Residents certainly do have a range of options for getting around. Via mobility app EC2B from consulting company Trivector, residents can book shared e-bikes and e-cargo bikes from the bicycle storage. This light and airy location with large bay windows is a far cry from a basement bike storage often seen in apartment buildings. Keys for the shared bikes are kept in digital lockers in the storage space, which also has a shared maintenance room for bicycles.

But light mobility isn’t the only option. Using the app, residents can book the use of the shared electric cars linked to the Viva complex and even buy tickets for nearby buses and trams.

This multi-modal combination is well received by residents.

A shared cargo bike in the bicycle storage.

“I sometimes take the bicycle to work, and if we have special errands like going to IKEA, we borrow a car,” says Elias Groendal. “We go on short trips on the weekends, there is a kind of cargo bike where we buckle up our one-and-a-half-year-old.”

Another resident, Joakim Eriksson, adds that he was happy to get rid of his car before moving to Viva: “Owning a car is freedom, but also a lot of problems.”

Being a pilot of the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept of the EU-funded IRIS Smart Cities programme, a survey was carried out to assess the impact of low-car living. What it found was more than half of respondents planned to get rid of their car in the weeks before moving to Viva, leading to a total ownership of 0.18 cars per person – lower than the average for Gothenburg at 0.28.

But some residents still wanted to hold on to their private cars. Of 170 adults with a registered address at Viva, 32 said they would keep their car.

“That Viva is not yet a one hundred percent car-free housing association is not very surprising,” says Lennart Persson, CEO of EC2B. “The force of habit is strong, and people need both nudging and a comfortable way to make the sustainable choice. For example, we see that we need to offer a priceworthy option for those who use their cars to go to their summer houses on the weekends.”

Data from the EC2B app demonstrates other habits of Viva residents. Most popular are e-bikes, which are booked as many as 200 times per month during the Summer. Cargo bikes are also popular – especially on the weekend.

During the summer of 2019, there was a peak in public transport tickets sold through the app during a campaign from Riksbyggen offering a 25% sale on tickets. But respondents to the survey pointed out that the most popular form of transportation was walking – underscored by respondents saying that the main reason for moving to Viva is the central location.

The city administration sees this as the beginning of a “paradigm shift” towards sustainable transport. “It’s not done overnight, but in the seven years I’ve worked with parking issues I have seen a clear shift in the attitudes of property owners who are now much more willing to offer different kinds of mobility services in order to lower the required amount of parking lots,” says David Backelin at the City of Gothenburg’s Urban Transport Administration.

As a “lighthouse” city of the IRIS Smart Cities programme, Gothenburg can use this valuable information and experience to help cities across Europe to implement urban development solutions in areas such as energy, mobility and Information and Communication Technology.

More information on the Viva housing project can be found on the Johanneberg Science Park website, which is coordinating the project on behalf of the City of Gothenburg.

More information on the IRIS project can be found here.