Our journey to 2030 2035

Jonathan Flower headshotThe UK Prime Minister recently announced a significant change to the government's commitments to meet carbon reduction targets. The headline grabber was the decision to push back the ban on new petrol and diesel cars to 2035. Putting aside the date and its implications for planning and delivering a not quite as rapid as expected equitable transition to a decarbonised transport system, what might that transition look like?

There is an assumption that gradually we will move from societies where ‘everyone’ privately owns a petrol or diesel car, to each having an electric one. Perhaps this is a good point to remind ourselves that everyone doesn’t have a car![1]

I believe that the proposed transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is an opportunity to take stock of the street environments that we have and to reflect on what we want. Since the 1960s many societies have accepted congestion, the privatisation of public space by anyone who can afford their own car and the free or cheap storage of those possessions. Is simply decarbonising our currently unequitable transport system what we are dreaming of?

There is an opportunity for a shift from private ownership to predominantly shared mobility, especially in cities. Shared use of EVs is entirely possible on a large scale as has been demonstrated in the West of England, where there have been over nine million journeys since the start of the e-scooter trial in October 2020 to the end of February 2023[2]. That the users are predominantly younger adults (49% of all rides were made by under 24s and only 1% by those over 55) suggests that the next generation are willing to embrace a shared mobility future, but many of our older decision makers may still be stuck in a paradigm that belongs to the past. Electric shared cars are less widely used but car clubs can be found in many cities. They do not have to be limited to urban areas – I ran one of a network of village car clubs south of Bristol between 2008 and 2010.

If private electric cars are not an equitable solution to decarbonised transport, could shared e-cars have a role to play? On street charging for the current private car fleet seems an impossible fit, especially in historic streets with little off-street parking. Many local authorities are seeking charging strategies to address this challenge. However, is the challenge the opportunity for change? Those historic street networks could accommodate enough charging points for adequate shared electric vehicles for all residents, making EVs accessible to many in a relatively short period.  A Swedish study[3] suggests that if 80% of the fleet were shared then Sweden could save up to 35% of carbon emissions from car transport. The same study suggests that a far greater reduction (78%) could be obtained by changing 80% of the private fleet to EVs. It does not calculate the benefits of combining both, but the carbon savings would be considerable.

Unlike just moving to an electric fleet, shared mobility has so many other benefits. It would create more space by removing the need for private on-street parking. That freed space can be given to walking and cycling infrastructure, emergency vehicle access, deliveries, waste removal and public transport priority. All far more equitable uses of street space. As the trials of small shared EVs (e-scooters) have shown, through geo-fenced speed limiters, banning people who break the rules, and eliminating rogue parking, street environments could become safer and more comfortable for all. The size of shared e-cars can also be limited (with larger vehicles available when you need them, including vans) which would be both good for space and decarbonisation, ensuring that carbon resources are not wasted moving heavy empty vehicles. Perhaps Rishi Sunak has given us five more years to plan for the transformation of our street environments enabling us to deliver both an equitable transition and an equitable decarbonised transport system.

Jonathan Flower

September 26th 2023 (Jonathan Flower is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England, Bristol)


[1] In the UK the poorest 20% of households are three times less likely to have a car or van than the richest 20%, National Travel Survey 2022.

[2] Chatterjee, K., Parkin, J., Bozovic, T. and Flower, J. (2023). West of England E-scooter Trial

Evaluation Final Report. Report to West of England Combined Authority.

[3] Harris, S., Mata, E., Plepys, A. and Katzeff, C (2021) Sharing is daring, but is it sustainable? An assessment of sharing cars, electric tools and offices in Sweden. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 170 (2021) 105583.

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