In 1987 the two Swiss cooperatives that would become Mobility car sharing opened for business. Each began with one car, a hand full of members and a few spare keys. Twenty-four years later, after a merger and name change, Mobility has established itself as the largest car-share program in Europe: 100,000 customers share 2,600 vehicles. Almost half of those customers have chosen to buy-in and become members because Mobility provides car use that is environmentally friendly and inexpensive.

After all these years, the cars are still easy to access. In the face of expediential growth, the cooperative has maintained simple systems for its members. Just as they did in 1987, businesses or individuals pay a flat fee that covers gas, maintenance and insurance — essentially a share of the fleet’s operational costs. Members can still schedule a vehicle via phone, but now they can also enlist a car through the internet or smartphone apps. The days of handing off keys, however, are over. Customers find their waiting car, unlock it with a membership card and away they go.

The company works to integrate its fleet with the Swiss transit system. Because of partnerships with rail authorities, cars now wait for members at hundreds of train stations. This affiliation offers convenience to customers and, importantly, encourages public transit usage. And, while Mobility has cars scattered throughout 2,600 locations in 450 Swiss towns, the cooperative does not allow the country’’s borders to limit customers. Users can now drive vehicles owned by other European car-sharing companies.

The cooperative facilitates many other partnerships. For example, the Swiss Postal Service currently delivers mail out of Mobility vehicles by day and other customers use the same vans and cars by night. Such sharing of resources has massive environmental benefits. Mobility is proud to say that in 2010, members produced 290 kg less CO2 emissions and 18,000 fewer cars congested the roads of Switzerland.

The cooperative’’s structure offers more than convenience and energy efficiency. Mobility estimates that, when compared with owning their own car, members annually spend between 3,500 and 5,000 CHF less. While saving members a great deal of money, the company still earned 31.8 million CHF in 2010 and, maintaining a focus on the future, Mobility has reinvested those profits into infrastructure.

Decades after those few people got together a bought a car, the ideas that motivate car sharing have not changed: it is a whole lot cheaper for a small group of people to own one car than for one person to own one car. Over the past 25 years Mobility’’s member-to-vehicle ratio has improved and Mobility finds that 50,000 people owning 2,600 cars is even more cost effective.

*Photos by Mobility car sharing Switzerland