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Shared Mobility – from “nice to know” to “need to have”

It is almost a month since the launch of the Commission on Travel Demand’s report on Shared Mobility: where now? Where next? This blog is an opportunity to take stock and ask not just where next but how to get there. The report painted a very clear picture about the carbon, congestion, inclusion, investment and indeed health benefits of greater sharing. Whilst it brought together data from across government, academia and industry, these statements on the positive benefits of sharing are not new. What was different was their placement against the demands of a Net Zero carbon future. Greater sharing is a technologically, socially and financially credible approach to rapidly decarbonising, alongside electrification. So, why is it still at the margins of policy and what needs to change for shared mobility to be at the forefront rather than the margins?

First, there needs to be a recognition that nowhere in the UK has a credible transport strategy which is consistent with Net Zero. Not just the end goal of Net Zero but the carbon reduction pathway necessary every year en-route. Research by colleagues shows that even a Norway style take up of EVs does not get us close to our targets and that a MAJOR shift in how we travel has to be part of any pathway that gets us anyway close. I fear we will be waiting a year or two for the numbers to be run in local and national governments to show that there is no deliverable ‘electrification only’ strategy. We can’t rely on nudge either, the scale of behavioural change is not a nudge but something more fundamental. So, policy honesty is a necessary pre-condition to opening up the need for a substantially more ambitious shared mobility future.

Second, the transport profession needs to do more to place the car in a mobility ecosystem. We should all advocate as strongly as we can for low carbon mass-transit, walk and cycle options. However, if we ignore the different challenges and needs or peri-urban and rural areas then we simply will not be providing a system which works for everyone. Shared cars, delivered through a range of business models, need to be part of the solution to decarbonise quickly. Without the work of CoMoUK and its predecessor organisations the evidence cupboard would be pretty bare. As such, the report recommends that the Department for Transport works directly with CoMoUK to develop a neutral repository for data and evaluation of new innovations such that there is a robust and trusted evidence base from which to justify policy change.

The Commission made twenty recommendations to different national government departments, local government and industry players. They include ensuring that the potential for shared mobility to deliver carbon savings is given due consideration by the Committee on Climate Change and rethinking how research on sharing is done and how demonstrations and trials are funded, again areas which I would expect CoMoUK and member organisations to lead on. However, the recommendations are also action oriented as well as process focussed. In particular we identify a major opportunity with public fleets and procurement and for a change in approach by Highways England which currently focuses on vehicles per hour rather than people per hour. A rapid shift to supporting a motorway network which facilitates sharing and integration into local transport networks could be brought about if it is taken to be important.

Twenty recommendations seems a lot and I would be surprised if they all prove to be implementable. Nonetheless, they represent a serious attempt to take an integrated overview of what needs to change to increase the amount of sharing from today’s levels. I’m looking forward to discussions at the CoMoUK Collaborative Mobility Conference in Birmingham in November to continue to push this ambitious, inclusive and low carbon agenda forward.

About the author:

Greg Marsden is a Professor of Transport Governance at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. He is Co-Chair of the Commission on Travel Demand which is funded by the Centre for Energy Demand Reduction Solutions and UKRI. He also leads the DecarboN8 network which takes a place-based approach to accelerating decarbonisation across the North.