27 Aug 2021
Barcelona, Spain
Sustainable Mobility

If you visit Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, you might see some small white cars gliding around town, marked with a black circle. These eco-friendly, electric vehicles belong to Som Mobilitat, a community-driven cooperative for promoting sustainable transport. Som Mobilitat’s manifesto argues that most trips can be completed on foot, by bicycle, or via public transport. Yet when a private car is absolutely necessary, Som Mobilitat’s members can share an electric vehicle instead of buying a regular, fuel-powered car.

Since 2016, Som Mobilitat has worked with communities and other eco-friendly cooperatives to build a smooth, effective electric car-sharing service. Som Mobilitat started with one electric car, based in one small village; today, the cooperative operates a fleet of 50 vehicles spread across 20 different communities. What is more, groups outside Catalonia can follow Som Mobilitat’s blueprint for community organisation. “Creating local cooperatives to organise your community is a very powerful action,” said Maria Medina, Som Mobilitat’s head of content and communication.

While Som Mobilitat was founded five years ago, its earliest members had wanted to create a sustainable transport cooperative since much earlier. “The seed of the project was planted years before,” explained Medina. “Some members of a renewable energy cooperative, Som Energia, were also very concerned about the impact of mobility.”

The concerned citizens came together as Som Mobilitat’s first foundation members. From the outset, Som Mobilitat advocated for non-car transport — think walking, cycling, or public transport — as commuters’ primary choices. Som Mobilitat’s electric cars offer a more sustainable solution for that rare occasion when members need to use a private vehicle.

Catalonian residents can sign up to join Som Mobilitat as a cooperative member, which costs a one-time joining fee of 10 euros. After this, new members can download Som Mobilitat’s customised mobile app and start reserving electric cars. Prices vary, depending on how regularly a member uses the cars and whether he or she pays in advance.

According to Medina, the carsharing model encourages Som Mobilitat’s members to place value on usage instead of ownership. The cooperative purchases electric cars—which are still prohibitively expensive for most members to buy individually—and allows them to be shared for a small fee.

The carsharing model leads to fewer vehicles being purchased, which often reflects the reality of people’s vehicle usage habits. “If you need a car, please don’t buy it,” said Medina. “You will have it parked 93% of the time; so just rent one.”

Som Mobilitat’s impressive expansion illustrates the keen interest of many communities in building more sustainable transport networks. As members, Som Mobilitat has attracted not just individuals, but also non-profits, enterprises, and large public institutions (e.g. city councils). 

Medina traces Som Mobilitat’s success to the cooperative model for community action. Each member can participate in the cooperative’s management and administration, with officials being elected democratically. “We are completely convinced that we had to [establish Som Mobilitat] as a cooperative, so that we could design this new mobility model all together,” said Medina.

The diverse range of stakeholders also allows Som Mobilitat to avoid traditional bank loans. Instead, the cooperative receives funds from sources like private donations and public sector grants. Som Mobilitat members can also use a webtool that allows specific communities to crowdfund their own electric vehicle. When the money is raised, Som Mobilitat purchases the vehicle and incorporates it into the overall car-sharing service.

Som Mobilitat has also benefited from yet another level of collaboration—with other cooperative-based projects. As one example, Som Mobilitat’s booking app was developed by The Mobility Factory, a cooperative formed by many separate electric car-sharing groups around Europe. 

In Medina’s view, these intricate webs of cooperation offer the best chance of promoting grassroots, sustainable shifts in consumer behaviour. “The petrol lobby is still so powerful that changes are happening very slowly,” said Medina. “For this reason, it is very important to stay in touch with similar projects and share both knowledge and tools.”


Learn more about Som Mobilitat through the website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Som Mobilitat

David Wood is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
Community drive: Spanish cooperative builds electric carsharing service | The Switchers
Som Mobilitat Sustainable Mobility