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"The drive to become carbon neutral can very much go hand-in-hand with economic growth and improved quality of life"

Much of the narrative around Net Zero focus on the sacrifices that will need to be made. Yet the drive to become carbon neutral can go very much hand-in-hand with economic growth and improved quality of life.

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Artistic impression of shared mobility hubs from CoMoUk
Artistic impression of shared mobility hubs from CoMoUk

For millions across the UK, work to tackle emissions could actually be life-enhancing. Transport is the largest-emitting economic sector now, responsible for around 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Owned cars and vans play a significant role within that.

People are not using vehicles in this way with a deliberate goal of wrecking the environment; rather a range of factors vector together, from convenience to habit, perceived prestige to a lack of alternatives.

However, thanks to a range of shared transport initiatives across the UK that offer people access to cars, bikes, lifts, flexible bus rides and (in trial areas) e-scooters, the balance is shifting and the evidence is stacking up beyond dispute that when schemes are rolled out, people use them, like them and make other changes in the transport habits, cutting their mileage and the number of cars owned while walking and cycling more and increasing their public transport use.

Now we need to see action from government, councils and others who shape policy to ensure this enthusiasm is captured by recognising shared transport’s contribution and potential in policy.

In cities across the UK, bike-sharing schemes have been enormously successful. From London and Brighton to Swansea and Glasgow, users have reported a number of benefits from the cheap and easy-to-use initiatives. The benefits go well beyond reducing their own carbon footprint and over 40,000 trips are made on UK shared bikes every day.

In our studies como.org.uk/shared-mobility/shared-bikes/why/, thousands have reported seeing major benefits in their own physical and mental health, with 48% of users reporting physical benefits and 32% reporting mental health benefits. Many have noticed the financial savings too.

Car clubs have proved similarly popular, with total membership at an all-time high of 600,000 members nationally. There’s not a household commodity which costs more yet spends such little time in use as a private vehicle. We find that on average across the country car club cars take out 18.5 owned cars.

On the other hand, signing up with a car club enables huge cost savings for many people on top of the flexibility to use a car any time you need it. The boost for the planet doesn’t just arrive from overall reduced motor use; car club vehicles are significantly more likely to be electric and new.

In a similar vein, companies which have incentivised ride-sharing to and from work have noticed strong participation when the process is made simple and easy. Our research como.org.uk/shared-mobility/shared-cars/why/ tells you more.

We believe new housing and other developments could be central to encouraging new habits too.

It’s not unusual for developers of these estates to be compelled under planning regulations to include additional provisions like a set proportion of affordable housing, new roads or even schools.

This should be extended to transport hubs too, and the Planning Bill is an ideal opportunity to do this.

Why? Because we know people who move to new locations are more open to trying new things, such as a change in transport to work or new routes to their favourite places. A couple who have just uprooted from a city centre location to an out-of-town estate may also be interested in taking up cycling, or reducing the time they spend driving to work. A hub with bike-sharing, public transport links and electric vehicle charging points would capitalise on this openness to behaviour change.

Mobility hubs como.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Mobility-Hub-Guide-241019-final.pdf are popular across Europe, but the UK has been slower to get on board with them.

The UK’s first CoMoUK-accredited hub recently opened in London, and I’ve no doubt the benefits will be widespread. These hubs aren’t just useful for those looking to travel quickly and efficiently.

They can become centre-points for the community and, as well as access to public transport links, they can include green spaces, areas for exercise and outlets for local businesses.

From a socio-economic point of view, they also help connect poorer communities with town centres and other vital destinations. With people now spending more time in their own neighbourhoods than ever before, these hubs could be transformational on many levels.

Use of technology can also be harnessed to bring people together to travel. In Wales, on-demand bus services are being trialled to ensure public transport capacity is better utilised. The concept is simple – people in a community get together to say where they want to go and when, and an app co-ordinates this and dispatches a vehicle on that basis. It’s another example of an approach which marries up lower emissions with a basic improvement to people’s lives.

The mission to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and ramp up public transport sustained a real blow amid the Covid pandemic. Understandably, people reverted to the safety of their own vehicles. But the pandemic has also showed that great change is possible and that where positive initiatives are put in place, the public will soon come looking to use them. And the pandemic doesn’t change the legal and moral imperatives to hit Net Zero. With the correct policies in place, shared transport options will help drive the change necessary.

 

Richard Dilks is the chief executive of CoMoUK the charity for the public benefit of shared cars, bikes, e-scooters and rides

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