One seemingly obvious way to reduce congestion and carbon emissions is for more people to car-share. It’s also a good way to save money. So, how do we help more people to do this? And how much difference could it make?
At the time of the 2011 Census, there were 510,000 empty car seats in the morning commute in Cambridgeshire (that number is higher now), and twelve out of thirteen car-commuters drove alone.
The ride-sharing platform Liftshare has been around for over twenty years. It started out helping people – mostly impoverished students – arrange lifts and share petrol costs for one-off trips, such as to/from university and music festivals. BlaBlaCar and GoCarShare also offer this service. Liftshare is now working to facilitate car-sharing for daily commutes. Over 2,000 drivers on its platform now offer lifts into Cambridge.
Some employers already help staff find car-share buddies. Liftshare’s platform can facilitate this, in some cases raising car-sharing rates to 40%. The platform also provides data, e.g. estimated reductions in carbon emissions, for Corporate Social Responsibility reports.
If car-sharing rates rise from the average in Cambridgeshire (8%) to 40% then, for a business with 1,000 employees currently commuting by car, the number of cars arriving at the office reduces by about 160, requiring 160 fewer car parking spaces, potentially releasing 3,000 square metres of land. It reduces the company’s carbon emissions from commuting by 17% and halves fuel costs for around 320 staff (if they agree to split costs or alternate whose car they use).
What are the downsides? Car-sharing requires people to co-ordinate schedules, but that’s similar to using public transport. If you have caring responsibilities, then the lack of flexibility may be a problem and cause anxiety. If you’re introverted, the idea of having to spend time with a work colleague may be unappealing.
A successful scheme needs to offer staff powerful incentives to car-share, such as a guaranteed parking space where spaces are limited. Anxieties can be reduced by underwriting the cost of replacement transport when it’s needed, and organising social events to help people find car-share buddies they feel comfortable with.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 19 February 2020.