="cooperative which maintains electric cars that are accessible for the entire neighbourhood via an app"
"Partago organises electric cars which can be booked and unlocked via an app on a smartphone. This allows the neighbourhood to share cars that don't cause noise or air pollution, which in turn makes the city a healthier and cleaner place. The cars are maintained and insured by Partago making them easy and safe to use. All cars also include all essential smartphone accessories and parking sensors. Their aim is to provide an alternative to private cars for people who cannot use public transport.
Partago is a cooperative. This means all users of Partago are co-owners of the cooperation and they share costs and profits. Using the app therefore is a investment into healthy mobility, but it also means that the car users use is in part also theirs. Yet, they save the monthly costs of a privately owned car."
"Partago is an electric car sharing enterprise that was founded in Ghent, Belgium in 2015 and now operates across Belgium.21 The current CEO, Joachim Jacob, made a beta version of the app out of frustration about the lack of parking space in his own street in Ghent and the underuse of most cars (Schuurman and Herregodts, 2017, p. 8). Evers adds that Jacob was also irritated that the car sharing market incumbent in Belgium, Optimobil Vlaanderen NV d.b.a ‘Cambio’, was not investing in client relations, innovation or digitalization. Jacob met Evers at a living lab22 to test the app with potential citizen-users like Evers and while the user-led technological innovation was modest—adding a car reservation feature— the major pivot was to become a users’ cooperative (Schuurman and Herregodts, 2017, pp. 8–9). Evers played an important role in this decision as she was a user who both believed in the merits of the idea and had previous experience as a cooperative entrepreneur. While there was initially some hesitation, the cooperative with limited liability (Coöperatieve vennootschap met beperkte aansprakelijkheid) was founded by five persons, Joachim Jacob, Rik Bellens, Lucie Evers, Patrick Claerhout and Davy De Clerq, with an authorized capital of €19,500.00, represented by 50 Class A shares and 28 Class B shares, with the nominal value of each share being €250.00. Evers, as a self-confessed, “governance hobbyist”, was central to the governance structure of the cooperative as set out in its bylaws (statuten). The Class A shares are for user-members and a user is limited to a maximum of 20 shares, while Class B shares are for supporter-members and they are required to subscribe to a minimum of 21 shares (§6, Partago bylaws). Article 6 also prohibits a person from holding both classes of share simultaneously. These shares were fully paid-up by the five founders, with Jacob holding all of the Class B shares while the other founder-members subscribed to the 50 Class A shares amongst themselves.
As per its statutes, the purpose of Partago is to contribute to a sustainable society by providing mobility solutions. To this end, it inter alia collects financial resources, stimulates the shared use of cars, develops technology and manages an electric car fleet—access to which is limited to its partner-users. A non-exhaustive list of its services include: the general maintenance, repair, rental and lease of passenger cars and light vans (<3.5 tons), the development of web portals, the management of computer facilities and computer consultancy activities, the offer and implementation of IT services, data processing, web hosting as well as the organization of conventions and trade shows (§3, Partago bylaws). This article of the statute also establishes the legal basis for Partago cvba to be a director of other companies or associations, so as to fulfill its cooperative purpose.
A relatively unique feature of Partago’s business model is that users become members (‘partners’) as a requirement to access an electric car. §9 of its bylaws requires that future members of Partago are required to abide by the same share subscription requirements mentioned in §6 of the bylaws and in the case of user-members (i.e. Class A members) in particular, they must subscribe to a minimum number of shares, as per the ‘fair use’ policy of Partago. Under this policy, new users are required to subscribe to a minimum of two Class A shares (i.e. €500), with the nominal share value being withdrawable in full or in part upon the user-partner’s exit from the cooperative after at least two years, depending on the financial circumstances of the cooperative (§13, Partago bylaws).23 The Class A members have the right to nominate at least 3 of the directors of Partago’s board and the candidate can be a member of Partago or an external person (§20, Partago bylaws). The board’s size is capped at 9 members and board members are unpaid for their services. Board decisions are made by consensus, failing which, they are made by simple majority (§21, Partago bylaws). The General Assembly, composed of both Class A and Class B members, as the most powerful organ in the cooperative determines the general policy of the cooperative and can order an audit of the cooperative (§27- 28, Partago bylaws). The bylaws of the cooperative allow members to participate in the General Assembly remotely, as electronic participation in meetings is permitted under Belgian law.24 Assembly decisions are also arrived at by consensus, failing which a simple majority is required of both Class A and Class B votes.25 Evers became the Chairman of Partago’s board but the day-to-day management of the cooperative is carried out by the CEO, with the support of 5 staff members (3.7 FTE)—including the main developer of the app, Rik Bellens (CTO).
For a user to gain access to an electric car, in addition to acquiring two Class A shares in the cooperative, they must prepay or subscribe for the use of the car, the tariff being determined by the amount of time the car is used, the battery power consumed and a fixed reservation fee (Bonne et al., 2019, p. 87). User-members are required to download the Partago application to their smartphone, which enables them to find available, fully-charged cars on a map, make reservations and unlock car doors. While Partago began operations in Ghent, it has now spread to other municipalities in Belgium, namely Beersel, Boechout, Brasschaat, Breendonk, Leuven, Lint, Mortsel and Wetteren, following the expression of interest and subscription of shares by small groups of citizens in these locations. Ghent has the vast majority of electric cars26 (41 out of 54, as of December 2019), with several municipalities only having one car till date. Partago has attempted to expand its user base by offering both companies and municipalities the opportunity to join as members, on the basis that it could help them avoid having idle company cars, while also using a more eco-friendly, communitarian option. Another important source of income has been Partago’s multi-year collaboration with WiseGRID, a project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, which among other things requires Partago to test tools (i.e., WiseEVP) for planning and controlling the charging/discharging schedule of a fleet of electric vehicles as well as sharing (non-private) data with other components of the WiseGRID system (Komninos et al., 2017, pp. 108, 116; Nofuentes et al., 2018, pp. 25–26, 28–29).27 One of the possibilities this opens up is the reversal of the usual flow of energy—from the car to local renewable energy grids and homes instead of just vice versa—as it moves around and offloads its excess electricity (Hu et al., 2016). In the long term, this creates an opportunity for an additional revenue stream for electric car sharing businesses that have their own set of ‘batteries on wheels’ (Zambrano et al., 2017, pp. 19–21, 58).
There are now some 600 members of Partago, approximately 70% of whom are user-members. According to Evers, the majority of these user-members only subscribe to the cooperative shares as they see it as a kind of car insurance contribution and (collective) investment in the ownership of an electric car as well as a form of personal saving. In other words, membership in a cooperative is less of a priority for them than access to the vehicle. This explains why, for instance, the bylaws do not require Assemblies to have a minimum quorum, except for decisions concerning the amendment of the bylaws itself and a change in cooperative purpose (§31-33). It prevents situations where decisionmaking reaches a standstill or meetings being disbanded due to lack of quorum, while at the same time preserving the mission of the cooperative in the event of a major control transaction such as a merger. Given that each member has one vote, irrespective of the amount that they have invested in the cooperative, they can have a meaningful role in shaping the policy and direction of the cooperative, including in the removal and election of directors. As there is a risk that user-members may prioritize obtaining the lowest price for the service over the financial health of the cooperative, Evers argues that her decision to include Class B shares is imperative for maintaining “equilibrium in extreme cases” (Interview, 04.10.2019, at 38:00). This “juggling” of the interests of the “consumer” and “capital”, as Evers puts it (Lucie Evers [LE] Interview, 04.10.2019, at [43:30-44:00]), is also apparent in The Mobility Factory, a cooperative that was Evers’ brainchild."
- the Mobility Factory