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The Skolkovo innovation city saw the launch of its first car sharing scheme on Tuesday with the unveiling of a BelkaCar parking point.
L-R: Ekaterina Makarova, Maxim Sheifel and Loriana Sardar pose in front of the first three BelkaCars to appear at the Skolkovo innovation city, with the giant Skolkovo Technopark behind them. Photo: Sk.ru.
Under the pilot project, drivers can pick up and drop off BelkaCar vehicles at a designated area in the car park of Skolkovo’s Technopark. For now, the cars run on internal combustion engines (ICEs), but next year BelkaCar plans to introduce electric cars, which is in keeping with Skolkovo’s plan to ban ICE vehicles from its territory by the time the city is complete.
“We see Skolkovo as a separate city from Moscow, and as the most progressive city in Russia,” said Ekaterina Makarova, managing partner and co-founder of BelkaCar.
“We haven’t seen the kind of plans Skolkovo has for its development anywhere else: electric cars, people as the priority, only public transport inside the city. For us it’s a really ambitious project for testing new initiatives such as car sharing,” she told Sk.ru on Tuesday.
After downloading the BelkaCar app – available in both Russian and English – and registering on the company’s website, drivers can pick up the vehicle located nearest to them and drive it anywhere they want within an 80-kilometer radius of the Moscow Ring Road for 8 rubles ($0.14) per minute. The cars are all insured and petrol refuels are charged to the company. BelkaCar vehicles can be left at designated parking spots inside the Moscow Ring Road, as well as at Domodedovo Airport, the suburb of Khimki, the Skolkovo business school, and now the Skolkovo innovation centre.
Next year, the company will add electric cars to its fleet for use inside Skolkovo, making it the first electric car sharing scheme in Russia, said Makarova.
“We see Skolkovo as a city of the future: it’s developing even faster than some European cities in terms of infrastructure, so it’s a way to see into the future – what transport will be like and how people will react,” she said.
Unlike Moscow, Skolkovo already has the necessary infrastructure for electric cars, said Maxim Sheifel, Skolkovo’s city manager, who is responsible for the development of the fledgling city’s infrastructure.
“We’re preparing to move over to electric transport: we already have five charging stations, and by the end of the year, there will be 10 more,” Sheifel told Sk.ru. There is already an electric bus operating on the commuter route from Slavyansky Bulvar metro station to Skolkovo, he pointed out.
“Eventually, there will be 1,000 charging stations on our territory, and they will appear as the territory is developed,” he said, adding that the new car sharing scheme would bring freedom to those who live and work in Skolkovo.
Drivers can use BelkaCar vehicles for 8 rubles per minute via an app available in English and Russian. Photo: Sk.ru.
Skolkovo was conceived from the beginning as a smart city free from polluting ICE cars. For now, while the city is being built, they are allowed on the innovation city’s territory, but once the project is complete, only electric cars will be allowed, along with bikes, electric buses and other ecologically friendly forms of transport.
BelkaCar was originally planned as an electric car sharing service, but its founders had to adjust their business model due to the lack of infrastructure for electric cars in Moscow, said Loriana Sardar, BelkaCar’s co-founder.
Sardar said she was converted to the idea of car sharing at the end of 2013, when she was living in Milan and planning to buy a car.
“When car sharing appeared in Milan, my mentality changed overnight,” she said. “I realised I didn’t need a car: it’s hard to find a parking space, car parks are expensive, I wouldn’t drive it every day anyway – and I’ve never bought a car since.”
Sardar and Makarova launched BelkaCar together with a third female partner in October 2016 with 100 cars, and by the end of the year had increased their fleet of vehicles to 250. BelkaCar now has about 700 cars, and plans to more than double that figure by the end of this year. The company also offers a corporate car service, in which a bill is sent to the driver’s company at the end of each month.
BelkaCar is not the only vehicle sharing scheme being introduced to Skolkovo. A scooter sharing station has already appeared in the Technopark (the building is so big that those who work in the Technopark use the scooters to travel around inside) and a second station is due to open soon at the Technopark office centre, located a 20-minute walk away. The scooter sharing scheme is operated by Samocat, a startup that is in the process of becoming a Skolkovo resident.
A bike sharing scheme is also set to launch at Skolkovo soon, said Sheifel.
“The number of people living here will eventually rise to 50,000 residents,” he said. “They will come to Skolkovo when this car sharing infrastructure is already in place, and for them, it will be a given: electric cars, car sharing, scooters, and close walking distances. Of the innovation city’s 400 hectares, only 200 will be occupied by buildings, while the rest will be recreation zones, so the picture is very different to older cities,” he added.