Does car sharing really reduce car use?

Does car sharing really reduce car use? This provocative statement is the title of a new T&E briefing aimed at highlighting the benefits car sharing brings. It forms part of a growing debate on ‘collaborative economies’, an area in which the European Commission is looking to plug a legislative gap in an attempt to maximise the environmental potential from trade that involves sharing established assets.

Car sharing has long been considered an obvious way to reduce the number of car journeys made, and possibly the number of cars owned. The growth of the internet has allowed for greater bringing together of car owners with unused capacity and people wanting to make journeys without adding to car usage, with companies like Blablacar and Uber becoming household names.

However, the growth of such companies has led to concerns connected with the lack of regulation, as well as questions about whether they really do reduce car use and thereby climate-changing and polluting emissions.

This is why T&E has now produced a briefing Does car sharing really reduce car use? It points out that all the evidence suggests that ride-sharing apps, general car-sharing schemes and long-distance car-sharing services all have positive environmental benefits, but that the evidence is not always independent and often lacks transparency about assumptions and baseline comparisons.

The briefing puts forward a four-step guide to how different levels of government can ensure car sharing plays its part in reducing transport’s environmental impact. It covers introducing congestion charging into cities and road pricing onto highways with cheaper prices for shared cars; eliminating highly polluting cars from urban areas; reducing the supply of parking in urban areas; and changing laws to make it easier for companies and cities to encourage the right kind of transport.

The Commission has asked the consultancy Trinomics to look at collaborative economies – not just transport, but shared accommodation (notably AirBnB) and tools (Peerby) – to assess the current impact of goods and service sharing and look at likely future trends. Its report Environmental potential of the collaborative economy is due later this year.

‘When the study is ready, the Commission will consider how to plug the legislative gap,’ said T&E’s clean vehicles director, Greg Archer. ‘We are now prepared to begin influencing this debate. Whilst the evidence isn’t good enough to identify big differences in the environmental impact of different business models - all are beneficial in reducing car ownership and / or use.’

The Commission defines ‘collaborative economies’ as ‘Business models where activities are facilitated by collaborative platforms that create an open marketplace for the temporary usage of goods or services often provided by private individuals. Transactions do not involve a change of ownership and can be carried out on a profit or non-for profit basis. The collaborative economy involves three categories of actors: 1. Providers – who share assets, resources, time or skills (peers or professional services providers); 2. Users; 3. Intermediaries that connect via an online platform providers and users.’

Greg Archer added, 'Sharing is one of the four megatrends affecting our cars along with electrification, connectivity and autonomy. If we want more sustainable mobility we must push forward sharing vehicles.'