Smart Transport

Shared mobility: Could electric and autonomous vehicles exacerbate the problems?

A report from the Commission on Travel Demand says electric and autonomous vehicles could actually exacerbate the problems of poorly utilised cars 

The figures are stark: the UK’s 27 million cars are grossly under-utilised. The typical car spends 97% of its life parked up (albeit during this time it is also non-polluting and doesn’t contribute to congestion) and 62% of the trips it does make are undertaken by a lone driver.

Promoting higher levels of sharing is a low cost way to reduce demand for road space, improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions from transport to help towards meeting the Government’s stated target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

The obvious way to do this, according to a report from the Commission on Travel Demand (CTD), is to reduce the size of the car fleet and use the vehicle miles travelled more intensively.

And, while policymakers continue to focus on electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) to solve the problems, this report concludes that both these technologies could actually exacerbate them.

“As the technology gets commercialised, EVs will make motoring cheaper, while AVs extend private mobility solutions to a much larger demographic,” say the authors.

“As identified in a wide range of studies on the deployment of AVs, if they are not to create more traffic as a result of empty running, they need to be intensively shared.

The report calls for the establishment of a hierarchy of road use which favours walking, cycling and then public transport within the national transport strategy.

“More intensive use of fewer vehicles offers a cost-effective, socially progressive and implementable set of options to cut carbon,” says the CTD.

The report analyses the potential of various vehicle-sharing schemes and makes 20 policy recommendations designed to move shared mobility solutions up the transport agenda.

The most eye-catching of these include: 

  • Prioritising shared mobility projects in publicly-funded research into AVs.
  • Obliging the DfT to monitor car occupancy levels and increase them – while setting out its vision for the transition to a smaller vehicle fleet.
  • Making Highways England redesign motorway and trunk road interchanges to promote safe car sharing.
  • Increasing shared use of public sector fleets such as non-emergency ambulances, local authority pool cars and school buses to enhance shared mobility.

Shared transport services tend to be concentrated in denser urban areas where there is the scale of potential users and the user base is not representative of the population as a whole. 

Because the UK starts from a more fragmented mobility market position than many other European countries, the authors warn that the risks of more individualised outcomes seem higher without clear action to prevent this.

“In essence, our creative capacity for transport innovation will support the delivery of a more individualised transport system and miss the opportunities that lower traffic futures could offer,” the authors say.

Read Mark Sutcliffe's full article on the options of MaaS movement from the Smart Transport Journal


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