Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Car Pooling (ICARO)

Switzerland Flag
Complete with results
Project Acronym
A6 (NRP 41)
STRIA Roadmaps
Smart mobility and services (SMO)
Transport mode
Road icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport


Background & Policy context

This project results from the Swiss participation in the EU research programme 'Increase of Car Occupancy (ICARO)' and is funded by NRP 41. The NRP 41 was launched by the Federal Council at the end of 1995 to improve the scientific basis on which Switzerland's traffic problems might be solved, taking into account the growing interconnection with Europe, ecological limits, and economic and social needs.

The NRP 41 aimed to become a think-tank for sustainable transport policy.

Each one of the 54 projects belongs to one of the following six modules:

  • A Mobility: Socio-institutional Aspects
  • B Mobility: Socio-economical Aspects
  • C Environment: Tools and Models for Impact Assessments
  • D Political and Economic Strategies and Prerequisites
  • E Traffic Management: Potentials and Impacts
  • F Technologies: Potentials and Impacts
  • M Materials
  • S Synthesis Projects

The average occupancy of private cars in Switzerland has decreased continuously over the past years, today it is lower than 1.62 persons per vehicle, in commuting even lower than 1.14 (1994).

Yet it is practically impossible to increase car occupancy rapidly and significantly under today's framework of the transport economy by applying partial and isolated measures. Incentive measures like co-ordinating centres for matching transportation needs, publicity campaigns, preferential parking for carpools, or reserved lanes for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV-lanes) do not by themselves induce the formation of numerous new carpools. At best they may stop or slow down a further reduction of the car occupancy.

Such measures make sense only if they are very cheap, or if they have other positive effects, such as the acceleration of buses on separate lanes. So far it has not been possible to implement a comprehensive strategy to increase car occupancy in Europe.

In Switzerland, such a strategy would more or less interfere in many places with today's strategy of promoting public transport. The main reason for this situation is mostly the fact that operating a private car is so cheap that most workers can easily afford to drive alone. They usually prefer the flexibility of single occupancy driving to the co-ordination effort necessary to form a carpool.

Furthermore, carpool matching centres cannot operate efficiently for commuters if they have to cover their costs, because without individual assistance the number of new carpools will hardly be greater in the long run than the number of disappearing ones.

Some day, the use of internet-based information may facilitate the exchange of information on empty seats, but so far the modest success of such matching services is usually limited to occasional intercity trips. There are no lasting positive experiences available for commuting. The technology is practically ready, but it does not replace the personal contact.

Most experiments aiming at an increase of car occupancy in Europe have not shown encouraging results, except for the HOV-lanes in Madrid and in Leeds.

In order to arrive at a considerably higher occupancy, it is probably necessary to improve the economic framework for car-poolers, i.e. to have higher costs of car transport, and to induce a different public attitude towards the use of cars. Specific measures will have a considerable effect only in a subsequent phase. This does not exclude that it


When setting up the research programme on urban transport, the European Commission assumed that car occupancy can be increased by using specific measures and innovative technologies. Consequently, real life demonstrations were asked for.

The ICARO project has consisted out of three parts:

  • first of all, best practices and general conditions for the formation of carpools were examined in different countries of Europe;
  • secondly, in six countries pilot projects were realised and the transferability was studied with computer simulations;
  • thirdly, recommendations and a manual have been drafted based on these elements.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Swiss National Science Foundation SNF
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


The promotion of car-pooling (in the UK sometimes called ride-sharing or car-sharing) could be a way of increasing car occupancy rates that are currently very low.


However, the conditions for a nationwide car-pooling strategy are not favourable for Switzerland. The only opportunities the author can see is for the sharing of bus lanes by car-pool vehicles, for rush hour management on motorways, and for travelling to and from major events.


These conclusions are based on the many case studies of the EU project ICARO which, with the exception of reserved lane schemes in Leeds and Madrid, have not been very encouraging.


Trials were also carried out in Switzerland within the ICARO project, with limited success - promoting car-pools in conjunction with Park+Ride at the railway stations of Lyss and Yverdon, reserved parking spaces for the Bern administration authorities, and an attempt via the internet to organise car-sharing for travelling to a large techno party in Zürich.


Car-pooling could be successful on a large scale if general conditions (e.g. true-cost awareness, congestion on the roads, and damage to the environment) were to change significantly.


As part of the international ICARO project, the following real life demonstration projects have been realised (arranged according to their success):

  • Leeds is a city in central England with roughly 1 million inhabitants (including commuter towns). On an existing radial road with 2x2 lanes a reserved lane for buses and car-pools has been signalled in each direction on a total length of 1.5 km. It has been successful in terms of travelling time, because the single occupancy drivers don't really have to wait any longer in the congestion than before this measure was intro

    Policy implications

    Conclusions for Europe:

    • Even though the incentives to form car-pools are not great in Europe because private transportation is generally cheap, ICARO has elaborated a manual with implementation guidelines for measures to increase car occupancy, because it is obvious that in the long run any transport policy that can be called sustainable will have to induce a more efficient use of cars and roads. In this manual, the recommendations consist not in single measures, but according to situation and orientation of a transport plan, in a certain mix of measures. For each measure a range of parameters is given within which the measure makes sense.
    • It is pointed out that a long-range strategy is necessary to increase car occupancy, because most people don't want to change their mobility behaviour just to suit an experimental arrangement, they change only if it is worth their while, and if the behaviour seems to have a promising future. Quick successes cannot be expected from isolated demonstration projects, and the hope of the European Commission that car occupancy could be increased significantly through 'innovative measures and technical instruments' cannot be fulfilled unless decisive changes in the availability of private transport take place.


    Conclusions for Switzerland:

    • In addition to the above conclusions, it may be stated that even though the image of car-pools is very good in surveys, it will be very difficult to realise restrictive measures for single occupancy driving, because in most places the problems of private transport (congestion, lack of parking spaces) are relatively small. In the Swiss direct democracy it is close to impossible to realise long range measures under such conditions, since they would not be accepted by a majority of voters.
    • Small isolated measures like restrictive parking don't seem to be worthwhile, they make sense only within a restrictive management of parking spaces. Car-pool matching centres for commuters can be operated only with long-lasting public subsidies, and they can be recommended only if there is a reasonably wide consensus, that a sustainable transport policy has to include measures against single occupancy driving.
    • A solution like in Leeds, where car-pools and buses profit from shorter travelling times, and single occupancy drivers don't have to wait longer, would be possible in Switzerland in certain locations, but on most motorways of 2x2 lanes, separate HOV-lanes would hardly be accepted, because the entir


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


Contribute! Submit your project

Do you wish to submit a project or a programme? Head over to the Contribute page, login and follow the process!