Best Friends Forever: shared transport and decarbonisation

It is super-welcome to see decarbonisation rise up the political agenda. Better late than never. Yet it is of course neither a new topic nor the first time it has come to prominence in the UK. The solutions that enable us to cut greenhouse gas emissions are mostly not new either. What would be new is applying them systematically, consistently, at scale, and in ways that people find at least acceptable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought few upsides, but there have been some from a greenhouse gas emission point of view: less travel overall, much more walking and cycling. These need to be built on. There have been very obvious downsides too, not least the constrained capacity of public transport, a crucial element in car-light and car-free lifestyles.

How do we move forward from here? Well, there are many worse starting places than shared transport such as bike share and car club schemes. Allow me to flesh out why.

Shared transport schemes were already at all-time high popularity levels before Covid-19 and our latest estimates, covering the last few months, are that there are around 850,000 members of bike share and car club schemes across Britain.

Bike share boost public transport use and is used interchangeably with people cycling their own bikes (47% of bike share scheme users have a personal bike as well in our latest survey). It is particularly strong at re-engaging lapsed cyclists (46% of scheme users said it was the catalyst to them cycling again). They tie directly into healthier lifestyles, with 48% of users reporting health benefits as being a reason they chose a scheme; and users increase their use of public transport.

Car club vehicles are far cleaner than the general vehicle fleet (43% cleaner in our most recent research). They result in fewer miles travelled: we find that car club users in London drive 526 miles less per year after joining a car club. They reduce car ownership – we find 45% of long-term car club members in London cut their vehicle ownership. They drive modal shift and are used much more efficiently than private cars – in a forthcoming piece of work about car clubs in London, we were able to credibly use the multiple of 94 members per car. This means fewer cars on the road or parked, reducing congestion and freeing up valuable space.

All of this results in direct carbon savings. We have done some work in London on car club and in Scotland across all shared modes to look at potential scale. This shows dramatic levels of potential: in the case of London, 82,000 tonnes of carbon annually based on mileage reduction across car owning households and a reduction in the number of car owning households. In Scotland we calculate the figure to be 87,000 tonnes from car club; 135,000 tonnes from lift sharing; and 64,000 tonnes from bike sharing.

So I hope you can see my point when I say that shared transport is already making a contribution to decarbonisation; and that it could be making a greater one. Government needs deeper insight into how shared transport can deliver on decarbonisation and to set a policy direction for its inclusion in transport decision-making in a sustained way, adopting the five-year rhythm and pipeline now commonplace in rail, road and walking and cycling. It should examine the case for subsidy to shared transport in certain locations for public policy purposes and look at the tax treatment of shared transport.

There are many other measures needed too: short, medium and long binding targets from Government on how to avoid non-sustainable transport demand altogether; how to shift to sustainable modes; how to improve the emissions of less sustainable modes. Authorities across the public sector should have to manage their own fleets, operations and spend on the basis of minimising greenhouse gas emissions. Government bringing itself together across transport, land use planning, public health and tax to drive decarbonisation deep into the fabric of what it orchestrates, requires and delivers.

If all this sounds rather draconian, then let me close by saying that shared transport has the power to offer people more sustainable options than currently. The evidence shows us that where they have them, they prove popular. If the realities of decarbonisation in transport are unpopular, they just won't happen – which will prove to be a lasting stain on our sector, now the single largest emitting one after all.

Richard Dilks is Chief Executive of CoMoUK (Collaborative Mobility UK)--

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This blog was published as part of the Decarbonising Transport series with Greener Transport Solutions