Changing the way we use transport is great example of the kind of energy saving initiatives that work best on a community-wide basis – and car sharing schemes are one of the most effective ways to get started, especially in areas where public transport is limited or inconvenient to use.
Informal lift-sharing arrangements can be a good way to get the ball rolling, but the real benefits begin to make themselves felt if you take the idea to the next stage and establish a full-blown sharing scheme. The reasoning is simple. The nearer to full occupancy a car is, the greater its efficiency per person, so although the additional weight of extra passengers does affect fuel consumption, the fact that it allows three or four other cars to be left at home more than offsets the slight increase. As well as this direct energy saving and lower associated emissions, fewer cars can also help reduce congestion, especially at peak times. Of course, no one’s suggesting that encouraging a small number of regular car sharers is going to single-handedly solve the country’s traffic-flow problems overnight, but there’s no doubting that every little helps!
There are three types of car journey in particular which lend themselves to the idea – the school run, the daily commute and shopping trips. Getting started could hardly be easier, and if your community is already actively looking for ways to save energy as a group, then you’re half-way there already.
Sharing the School Run
According to some estimates, in some areas the school run accounts for nearly one in five of the cars on the road at peak times, so the advantages of organising a community car share around this activity are pretty clear. Many schools have set up their own schemes and it’s usually a simple matter to join – new parent volunteers are always likely to be welcomed in with open arms! If your child’s school doesn’t currently run one, however, approach the head with a few interested fellow parents already on-board and ask for the school’s formal approval, as official endorsement makes life a whole lot easier for everyone concerned.
Working out the rota can bring a few headaches, especially in the early days, but once things are properly set up, the scheme should be a big help to all the parents involved, as well as shining up their green credentials in the kids’ eyes
For some communities, especially where there is one major local employer, organising a commuter car share will be fairly easy to achieve, while clearly for others the logistics challenge may prove more daunting. Never-the-less, it is well worth persevering since there are major benefits to be gained, as much in terms of the chance to escape the stress of driving and reduced competition for parking as in the obvious cut in energy/cost/emissions.
Like individual schools, some companies have well-established schemes to join, but setting up a car share in your street or village shouldn’t be too difficult, particularly if there are a good number of you all needing to travel to roughly the same place. The environmental impact can be surprising too; according to studies by the Office of National Statistics, if everyone who routinely drives to work on their own was to give a fellow commuter a lift on just one day a week, the overall traffic volume would be cut by some 15 per cent.
The rise of internet ordering and supermarket home deliveries have revolutionised grocery shopping for many households, but not all areas can get the full benefit and not everyone is online – or wants to buy things “unseen”. A car-full of shoppers, sharing the journey and bringing their purchases home in a single vehicle is an obvious solution to the problem, though you’ll need a fair-sized boot to accommodate the monthly shop, times two or three!
With so many supermarket developments increasingly taking place out of town, and other shops and outlets tending to cluster around them as retail parks become ever more commonplace, car usage is almost inevitable. If a practical car-share can be organised, some of the environmental ‘sting’ can be taken out of that necessity – and there’s nothing quite like companionship and shared experience to cement community spirit.
Car sharing schemes are not for everyone. The particular travel needs of some drivers, for instance, can make it practically impossible but for others, the idea can work and it has much to offer. It is also an essentially co-operative activity, which can often make it one of the easiest first projects to undertake as a new group. One thing’s for sure, for any community looking to saving energy, cut individual costs and slash its collective carbon footprint, there are few better – or quicker – ways to start.