Car sharing is key to meeting our net zero emissions target

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis and the ongoing restrictions, changes and worries it has brought, it has sometimes been forgotten that we were already living through a climate emergency.

For a brief moment at the height of lockdown the environment enjoyed a little respite, as cars came off the roads in huge numbers and people stopped flying all over the globe. Unfortunately, road traffic is now back to ‘business as usual’ levels, and emissions are creeping up once more. While the pandemic continues to attract the lion’s share of attention, the climate situation remains as urgent as ever.

In response to the declaration of a climate emergency last year, the UK government set the target of reaching zero-carbon emissions by 2050. Interestingly, and encouragingly, certain cities have decided to tackle the problem with more urgency, setting their own imminent deadlines for the target. Bristol, where Karshare is based, set their target for 2030, Nottingham by the end of 2028, and Oxford City Council have even ambitiously stated they will achieve net-zero carbon emissions for their own operations by the end of 2020. Other cities who have taken this challenge into their own hands with ambitious strategies include Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, and Edinburgh.

A nationwide response has been the founding of the UK Climate Assembly, which recently released its report on how to meet our target of net zero emissions by 2050. Unsurprisingly, it includes recommendations for reducing the number of cars on our roads, specifically banning them entirely from city centres, limiting the number of new roads built, and banning the sale of SUVs.

Whilst banning cars from city centres and significantly reducing the overall number in daily use may seem unrealistic, there is one way that we can make significant progress towards these goals: car sharing. Achieving net zero emissions requires us to halve the number of cars on the road, and sharing vehicles is by far the most efficient and sustainable way to get there.

The sharing economy is not a new concept, and many car sharing services are readily available for drivers in urban areas. However, the benefits of car sharing to individuals and to the climate rarely receive sufficient acknowledgement, to the detriment of overall uptake levels.

For every car shared, 11 cars are taken off the road, and just a 2% switch to car sharing could see a drop in emissions by 620,000 tonnes of CO2. As people’s behaviour is changing post-pandemic, with more remote working and online shopping, less commuting and less holiday travel, now is the perfect time to capitalise on these changes and adopt car sharing as a permanent fixture of our day-to-day lives. It’s predicted that over the next few years 25% of people will use their car less for commuting, and 29% will use it less for other travel purposes. Why own a car that will sit idle and clog up the roadside when you can share a vehicle and use it at your convenience?

At Karshare, we have further developed the car sharing concept in Bristol, by launching a community sharing scheme designed to make better use of existing roadworthy vehicles, which is a far more sustainable approach than introducing a fleet of new hire cars. It is worth noting that the production of an average European car typically generates around 7.2 tonnes of CO2, while the average car belonging to a household is likely to go unused for an astonishing 95% of its lifetime. We really don’t need new cars to enable car-sharing, so our model is aimed at actually lowering the overall number of vehicles in circulation, thereby reducing the emissions associated with the creation of vehicles too. The Centre for Sustainable Energy released a report in December 2019 on how Bristol can achieve net zero by 2030, and the evidence contained there states that a reduction in vehicle numbers is necessary, in combination with a switch to electric cars.

This car sharing scheme is extremely beneficial to the environment whilst making financial sense for individuals at a time when many can benefit from a little extra cash. In Bristol, over half of residents have seen their incomes drop as a consequence of the pandemic. 26% told us they would be willing to hire out their cars, and 42% said they were no longer sure they needed their own car every day. We make it possible for private car owners to hire out their idle vehicles and receive money for doing so, and restrict the need people feel to buy new cars. All the while the environment reaps the benefits, and we progress towards our emissions targets.

At a time when people are suffering with lockdown syndrome, car sharing is also the perfect way to encourage people away from driving towards healthier mobility in their local area. Instead of using their car for every trip, car owners who share their vehicle typically increase the amount they walk by 13% and bike by 7%.

The best way for us to cut traffic emissions is to reduce vehicle numbers greatly, and to replace existing vehicles with electric cars. While sadly the infrastructure isn’t in place for the latter to be a viable solution right now, we can nevertheless make a positive start in the pursuit of net zero emissions by accepting and embracing community car sharing in our daily lives.