Shared car ownership key to greener travel

Editor | Freight Industry Times

The combination of connectivity, automation and shared vehicle ownership has the potential to make car travel greener and cheaper, cutting energy use and helping accelerate the introduction of low carbon vehicles, according to newly released research.

The report, by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, suggests that:
• The net impact of the technical developments will ultimately depend on how their introduction spurs further innovation in vehicle and transport system design combined with mobility service provision.
• At full automation (ie ‘driverless’ vehicles), the impacts are highly dependent on the degree to which the current levels of individual private car ownership moves to new models of shared access and use.
• Automation and connectivity together can result in some vehicle-level energy efficiency benefits.
• Full automation could help accelerate the transition to low carbon vehicles by reducing the practical difficulties often associated with these vehicles such as refuelling and recharging.
• Most of the large-scale benefits of fully automated vehicles can only materialise when they are widespread and affordable which is likely to take several decades.

The study – Automated vehicles; Automatically low carbon? – was presented during the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Conference at the Olympic Park in London.

The research suggests that in order to make car travel greener and cheaper much more work needs to be done to encourage shared car ownership. Government policy can provide a supportive environment for new mobility services to develop by delivering open data protocols, supporting technology incubation and providing local authorities with resources to enhance skills and offer incentives to local mobility service companies.

There are potential challenges, though, in that energy demand and traffic may increase, say the researchers, as car travel becomes more popular due to the fact that autonomous cars leave the occupant free to use travel time for other activities. Among other policy responses could be a need for demand management to mitigate against unsustainable increases in the use of cars. Potential policies might include road user charging, low emission zoning and regulating empty running.

Commenting on the research, the LowCVP managing director Andy Eastlake said: “It’s clear that there are significant potential benefits from the coming mobility revolution through connectivity and automation. However, in order to grasp the full environmental benefits of these technologies we need a strategic, co-ordinated policy response that will have to involve a wide range of stakeholders working in partnership.”

Dr Zia Wadud, from the University of Leeds Institute of Transport Studies, said: “Automation can offer large benefits to the society, not only in carbon terms but also in improving safety and social inclusion. However, a lot of these benefits will depend on how we use the technology. Let’s not be blinded by the excitement associated with driverless cars, saying the technology alone will solve all the problems. We know that there could be some risks - like there are for most new technologies. We need to be careful and be proactive about resolving these risks early on to fully reap the benefits of automation and intelligent connectivity.”

Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport and Manufacturing at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Autonomous and connected vehicles have the potential to revolutionise our road transport. Whilst they could make our roads safer we are yet to fully understand the impact on congestion and, ultimately, the energy consumption associated with the vehicles.”

Note: Photographs © Joshua Tucker Photography