Cars – are ‘friends’ electric?

Pine fresh

Ok…we get it

As pteg, we would prefer it if everyone walked, cycled or used public transport to make their journeys. But we must be realistic. Whether through choice, or necessity, many people are very attached to their cars. The car does have its benefits over other transport options:

  • It takes you from door-to-door, even if those two doors are hundreds of miles apart and in the middle of nowhere.
  • You can set off and head back whenever you want.
  • You can follow any route (unless you are accompanied by a bossy sat nav in computer or human form).
  • You don’t have to worry about who will sit next to you.
  • You can savour the aroma emanating from your Magic Tree, rather than other, less pleasant sources.
  • You can sing if you want and no-one will stare at you.

But don’t forget the bad bits…

So it’s easy to understand the attraction. But cars are also frequently polluting, expensive to run and tend to make you lazy. So accepting that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a desire or need for cars, we need to look at how we can make them greener and encourage people to use them less.

There are lots of ways to do this, but having recently attended the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership conference, I will focus on two in particular – electric cars and the concept of combined mobility.

Plugging in

Electric cars first. If people must use cars, it would be great if they were electric. That way, they emit zero emissions at the tail pipe, reducing pollution and improving air quality for all – especially in inner-city areas where those on a lower income are disproportionately affected.

It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm with which manufacturers are developing electric cars in the hope that their product will be seen as ‘an iPad on wheels’ as one speaker put it – becoming the ‘must-have’ piece of tech.

Nissan Leaf

We heard, for example, about the Nissan Leaf – Nissan are investing big money into this car and the batteries that go with it and have received £20m from the Government to support development in Sunderland – great news for jobs in these austere times.

Manufacturers believe there is a market out there provided the vehicles are affordable (with help from Government incentives), they can address consumer worries (e.g. how far can I get on the battery) and there is a visible infrastructure available at destinations – like railway stations and supermarkets – and en-route (pathway charging), for longer distance journeys.

Avoiding business as usual – the combined mobility option

However, the problem with electric cars is that, aside from changing how you fill up your vehicle with energy, they allow people to pretty much carry on as normal, albeit in a greener, less polluting manner. The roads will still be congested, streets filled up with parked cars, the electricity still needs to be generated somewhere and people will still get lazy – using their cars when they don’t really need to.

One of the problems is that, with the electric vehicle option alone, people still own cars. If you own a car, of course you want to get the use out of it and you’ll be tempted to use it for the majority of your journeys. That’s where the concept of combined mobility and new models of car ownership come in.

Could mobile phone style contracts be the future of car ownership?

One of the manufacturers at the conference said that they were looking with great interest at the mobile phone industry as a business model. Here, you sign up for a contract that meets your needs and keeps you talking, texting, emailing and so on. You never actually own the phone that allows you to do this. Instead you have temporary custody of it until it’s time for an upgrade. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for people – they get the services they need and the newest, shiniest technology.

The same could go for cars, which could be presented as part of a package of transport services that keep you moving. You would never actually own the car, simply have access to it via a car club should you need it for a particular journey. The car club would ensure that you are always driving the shiniest, greenest and most efficient vehicles (they could even be electric, making the technology accessible to a wider range of people).

Alongside car clubs, the package would include other transport services – pay-as-you-go bikes, buses, trains, trams and taxis. Smartcard technology in the mould of London’s Oyster could give one-touch access to all of these transport services – leaving you to decide which is best for the journey you are making. For the morning commute, you can hop on a bike and dodge the traffic jams. If you need to do a food shop that evening, unlock a car club car for a couple of hours. Public transport would also become a more attractive, cheaper option for many journeys as pay-as-you-go cars make the real cost of motoring more visible.

This model means you no longer need to have the car sitting in the drive all the time, making you feel guilty for not taking it for a spin, costing you an arm and a leg and tempting you into making unnecessary journeys to the corner shop for biscuits.

Combined mobility offers the prospect of new thinking rather than ‘business as usual but with low carbon vehicles’. It’s time to embrace the car as our friend…albeit one that we only call upon when absolutely necessary. More of an acquaintance really then…

Rebecca Handley

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