300km in a Handshake.
As I’ve said before, Germany is very much reliant on websites that offer up car-sharing opportunities, what with the national train service being obscenely expensive on a majority of journeys (but very good value on others, it must be said) and not actually having any intercity national coach service. Strangely, I know this sounds stupid, but this situation is new to me – Ireland always had a train service and a half-competing national bus service, and in recent years we have more and more private coach services linking cities for great prices. Likewise, Malaysia also had a train service but also an extremely advanced coach service, even if the class of service never seemed to drop below ‘Super VIP, even when it was otherwise a normal coach. The result in Germany is that car-sharing is a huge thing, with countless cars packed to the rafters of a Friday evening heading in their respective directions.
And nowhere is this more obvious than in Frankfurt. I read a couple of years ago (and I definitely believe it) that the population drops dramatically, more so than many other major cities in Europe, at night as people flee back to their respective towns and suburbs. Although the article I read didn’t give an actual statistic for the weekend, I can only imagine that the figure of people living in Frankfurt is much lower still on the weekend as people race from the city. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it – on a Friday evening all over the city, outside offices, outside the train station and around random café’s you can see people meeting each other with their luggage, waiting for their ‘driver’ to come and get them so they can begin their journey to wherever they’re going, by car-share of course. At times I think it’s a really great way to at least meet people and get a journey out of it, but other times I wonder is it not a shame that the railway company don’t just lower their fares and take less money per person, but get more people?! Because whether they do or whether they don’t, people are clearly finding ways to travel to where they want to go regardless.
Then, on Sunday evening, and I’ve experienced this a couple of times now, you have people returning to the city once again for the week ahead, wheel-along cases tucked in behind them. In fact, as I pointed out to Anna when we got on the train on Sunday night to get from Frankfurt’s main station to our own nearest station, of the 5 people sitting in the little area (including us) we were sitting in on the train, all 5 were toting weekend bags.
A couple of years ago, I was involved in a smarter travel working group at college, which was looking at ways of starting a car-sharing scheme in Ireland for staff and students of the college. Primarily, the concern fell with how would the insurance pay out or work if an accident occurred and then secondly, what if the people didn’t show up, etc. To this day, I’ve still no real idea how exactly the insurance side of things works out in Germany; rather, I just hope not to be involved in an accident and need to find out in the first place. As for the ‘not turning up’ possibility, it hasn’t happened – all our drivers have shown up, and sometimes quite unfortunately, so too have the other passengers. All in all, the experience reminds me of a prolonged version of the experience you sometimes get when you’re stuck sitting beside someone on a plane.
We’ve all been there – you get on a plane, you find your seat, you put your things up in the luggage bin overhead, then the person already sitting in the middle seat points at the empty seat beside them to half-ask if that’s your seat. You then nod, acknowledging that yes, it is indeed your seat, please move. They move, you sit down, they sit down, and a small and occasionally quite awkward conversation develops, which lasts (I find) usually until you reach the runway and the plane takes off. Well, imagine just the conversation part of that, but lasting for about 20 minutes/until you reach a major motorway and some invisible cue sends you both into silence/whichever comes first and you’ve an idea what the start and end (in reverse) of a car-share is like.
But, for the opportunity to save a quite significant amount of money, occasionally (and to date in fact) meet some pretty interesting folks and get to where you want to go quicker than the train anyway, would I go without?
Not a chance, in fact I’m already booked on my next ‘voyage’ on Thursday…