Smart Transport

Smart travel can decarbonise the business grey fleet ‘iceberg’

Ben Lawson, vice president mobility for Europe at Enterprise

Author: Ben Lawson, vice president mobility for Europe at Enterprise

As businesses plan how best to mobilise employees back into the office and when travelling between locations, the practical challenges of how to deliver against the goals of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation plan become ever clearer.

The plan recognised that businesses can meaningfully reduce emissions by targeting grey fleet motorists and providing employees with alternatives that mean they can leave their own car at home.

It is not a question of introducing an electrified fleet or even encouraging working from home.

In fact, a key factor is that the true scale of the problem is unknown – it is an iceberg – because so many organisations, especially in the private sector, have chosen not to track data relating to it. 

While local councils, NHS Trusts and other public bodies have led the charge on tackling grey fleet, introducing mobility and technology solutions with some extraordinary results, most businesses still do not even monitor the level of grey fleet in their business, let alone try to reduce it.

Many companies now think that the pandemic has resolved the grey fleet problem because non-essential executive business travel is significantly reduced and many people will continue to work from home.

The unwritten narrative behind the visible fact that the pandemic ‘switched off’ airport business travel is that business mileage from an office or home location has continued - and in some cases, even increased. It is easy and unchecked and often no one person is responsible for the cost.

The environmental impact of this mileage – all too often driven in a private, older and more polluting vehicle – is hard to establish given the lack of data.

Applying a smart transport fix to this challenge is partly about macro solutions.

The organisation’s travel policy needs to be modernised, giving people access to safe, smarter travel - this requires strong internal leadership and project management to unite internal departments in the common goal of decarbonising journeys. 

Mobility as a service (MaaS) and multi-modal transport is already encouraging many people to rethink their personal and leisure mileage and to prefer shared, public and active transport modes over using a personal car.

Alongside, businesses need individualised ‘smart’ solutions that can provide effective remedies to unsustainable business travel today, based on existing networks and travel options.

Existing transport modes – including the most modern internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles – can help to decarbonise business motoring as long as vehicles are located conveniently where employees live and work, and tools and rules exist to guide employees to better travel decisions.

Some organisations were ahead of the curve before the pandemic disrupted travel patterns.

We are now working with these businesses to map out the best pattern of vehicle supply to meet shifting types of demand, especially among hybrid workers who are sometimes in the office and sometimes at home.

This analysis needs to make sense of the variability of the variables themselves.

The journeys are ad hoc and unpredictable. The starting point is increasingly dispersed among many locations - both home and office. The timing is highly variable, again especially among organisations proceeding on a hybrid work basis.

This requires real-time vehicle allocation and visibility to prevent employees from resorting to the one constant in the analysis, which is that they will typically default to driving their own car and reclaiming mileage.

Another factor is that while ride sharing was starting to become more commonplace ahead of the pandemic, health and safety now means many organisations require business trips to take place in a single occupancy vehicle, even if employees are happy to go with a colleague.

Smart travel provides the solution if it is planned as part of a sustainable and carefully tracked and audited system. It needs to embrace employees’ needs, guide them towards less polluting options – and also communicate the bigger picture, so that employees know that their behaviour is helping to decarbonise travel.

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