On yer bike! We all know that cars are noisy, polluting, traffic congesting things that we could probably do with less of. Yet, at the same time, there’s a sense of romance when it comes to motor vehicles; they represent freedom and individualism, the open road and the ability to go anywhere and do anything. That’s why car adverts always show cars driving through wide open plains or along high mountain roads, and never the way they are more typically used: stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work.
What would it take to make you fall out of love with your car? In many places, alternatives can seem thin on the ground. Public transport might be unreliable and cramped; distances might be too far (or it might be too wet or cold, or too hilly) to walk or cycle; and cities and towns might be designed around cars. However, are these insurmountable obstacles? The World Bank estimates that roughly 20% of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion come from transportation, including planes, trains, and cars. So, should we be driving less and walking (or bussing and biking) more?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Cyril, who sees enormous advantages to using cars less: less energy consumption, less pollution, a re-dynamism of the economies of cities, and so on. Is he right, or is he overplaying the advantages and ignoring the disadvantages? For example: not everyone can get about easily by bike, and public transport may be unreliable in some areas.
To get a response, we spoke to Daniela Jacob, Director of the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), an independent scientific centre – though it was originally set up by the German government – and now part of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres (HZG). Did she think we should all be using our cars less?
We also had a comment from Michael, who worries that we are focusing too much on the transport sector and not enough on other (more polluting) sectors, such as agriculture. Should we stop trying to get people out of their cars and instead focus on getting people to eat less meat? Or ensuring that food is grown and livestock raised in a more sustainable manner? Can we not do both at the same time?
How would Daniela Jacob respond?
Might new technology be the solution? We had a comment sent in from Paul predicting that, over the next decade, car ownership is going to plummet because of apps like Uber and BlaBlaCar, as well as Artificial Intelligence and driverless cars. Is he right?
To get a reseponse, we put his comment directly to Frédéric Mazzella, the founder and President of BlaBlaCar (and one of our sister think tank Friends of Europe’s European Young Leaders). What would he say?
I think, rationally, the number of cars should be lower per person because we are using them better. Today, cars are parked for 96% of their lifetime. When they’re on the road, 3 out of 4 times, there’s only 1 driver on board. So we don’t do rational usage of our cars. Now with technologies – network technologies, platform technologies – we are able to make a much better usage of our car fleet. So in the end it should reduce the number of cars needed per person. Cars are the only vehicles that are used so little. If you look at buses, trains, airplanes, they are on the road 50 to 80% of their lifetime. Cars are on the road only 4% of their lifetime and they cost a lot of money.
So, rationally, thanks to technology, we will diminish this ratio, which also means we will most probably not have to own cars, but will be using services which offer the possibility to have cars. I think it’s a good thing for reducing congestion, reducing pollution and also the energy that is needed to create and produce cars. So, yes, I think he’s right. It’s super hard to know in what proportion though.
But what’s going to change is who owns the cars. Some entities will still need to own cars – possibly it will be car fleets owned by a new type of rental car companies. It may be actors like BlaBlaCar or Uber who will own their own fleets. It may be other actors in the mobility sector who will want to own fleets. So we don’t know who will own the fleets, but most probably the ownership model will change. It will not be individual car ownership. It may be shared usage of cars which move alone, because autonomous cars, obviously, will change things.
We will see autonomous shuttles on specified circuits as soon as next year in many cities. For the full, level 5 autonomous cars, we will have to wait another 10 years I think. For BlaBlaCar, this change – including autonomous cars – is not affecting the activity itself so much, because what we do today is we match drivers who own the car with 2 or 3 passengers going the same way. What we will have to do tomorrow with autonomous cars will be to actually match 3 or 4 passengers going the same way with an autonomous car. But it’s not that different. It’s still matching intentions of travels from people who do the same rides. It’s important to note because many people are asking ‘If the car ownership model changes and autonomous cars enter the world fast, what will change in the services?’ I think BlaBlaCar will be here and will be used even more with autonomous cars than today.
What would it take for you to give up your car? Should we all be using our cars less? Or are we focusing too much on decarbonising the transport sector and not enough about other, more carbon-intensive sectors, such as agriculture? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!