What will it take to get more Londoners to shift from car ownership to car share?
There are currently 2.6 million private cars registered in London. The Mayor’s target is to reduce that number by 250,000 by 2041. That’s around 12,500 fewer cars each year until 2041. But last year the number of cars registered in London decreased by just 268.
Zipcar say they provide a viable, affordable alternative to private car ownership. So we asked Zipcar UK General Manager James Taylor to tell us what it will take to get more people to make the shift from car ownership to car share.
Fundamentally we need to change our relationship with the car.
We all recognise that for a fairer, greener and healthier city we should be walking, cycling and using public transport more. The challenge is how we encourage more people to make that behaviour change. It’s clear we need to make these modes of transport more appealing, safer and more accessible. Recent investments and growth of the cycle lane network is a step in the right direction, but fundamentally we need to change our relationship with the car.
To facilitate a behavioural shift where fewer cars are used, car sharing can enable that step change to happen, by providing access to a car, whilst at the same time reducing reliance on it.
There are many incentives available aimed at encouraging owners to switch to lower polluting private vehicles, such as lower parking fees from local authorities for residents, and electric vehicle (EV) grants from central government. But there is a better choice than simply replacing a privately-owned vehicle with another.
Car travel may always be needed, but hopefully less so. Car sharing can have a positive impact on air quality by increasing the proportion of car journeys made in low emission vehicles, whilst at the same time lowering vehicle miles driven, alongside the long-term benefit of embedding e-mobility in London’s transport mix.
By providing on-demand access to a fleet of shared cars, available to rent by the minute, hour or day, we offer a viable, affordable alternative to private car ownership.
Zipcar has been on a mission to enable simple, responsible urban living since we launched in the UK back in 2004. Break the link with the private car and we start to see a significant change in members’ transport behaviour.
After joining a car club, members drive less and use public transport, cycle and walk more – 23% of our members cycle regularly as opposed to only 9% of Londoners and 62% of our members are regular users of the tube compared to only 37% of Londoners.
We also know that each car club vehicle we place in our fleet removes up to 13 private vehicles from our roads, as members tell us they sell their cars after joining Zipcar – contributing to improvements in congestion and air quality.
At Zipcar we offer two models of car sharing – Roundtrip and Flex.
Roundtrip cars operate from a dedicated car club bay and must be picked up and dropped off in the same location (hence the name). Zipcar Flex is a one-way service where you pick up a Flex car using a mobile phone app, drive where you need to go and drop it off anywhere in a defined zone – the London ‘Zipzone’. This zone is now operating in Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Westminster. So for example a member could pick up a Flex car in Hackney and drive to their destination in Wandsworth and leave the vehicle there.
By providing both services together, round trip and one-way, we have seen a halo-effect with the two services operating together to give our members the confidence that their trip needs are covered, enabling them to make the step change shift from ownership to sharing.
Roundtrip is charged by the hour or day and is generally for longer planned trips – weekends away, weekly supermarket shops etc. Flex is charged by the minute and is better suited to shorter journeys within the city, generally 30 minutes to an hour. As such Flex is an ideal model, currently, for electric vehicles. We introduced 325 e-Golfs to the Flex fleet in 2018, which accounts for around 25% of our Flex fleet and have a vision to be fully electric by 2025.
The Roundtrip model is the most well-established in London, with every London borough having some level of car club provision. However, the total number of shared cars available is still small when you consider the total number of vehicles on our roads.
There has been significant growth in car club membership in the UK in recent years, but we are still some way behind our European neighbours.
So if car sharing can help increase levels of active travel, reduce congestion, take private cars off our roads, improve air quality and make access to cleaner, greener vehicles affordable for all, surely car sharing programmes are being implemented in every city in the country?
In 2011 the UK had 161,172 car club members, just behind Germany with approximately 180,000 members. Since then the gap has widened – Germany now has over 2 million car club members, whilst the UK has around 500,000.
The one-way model (such as Zipcar Flex) is a relatively new development in car sharing and has accounted for much of the growth seen in Germany.
The first one-way operator only launched in London in 2015, followed by Zipcar Flex in 2017. Currently Zipcar is the only operator of the one-way model in London and is available in twelve London boroughs.
London has been slower to adopt the one-way model but since introducing our Flex one-way model we have seen a significant growth in demand for car sharing.
Despite slow growth elsewhere in the UK, the picture in London is more positive, accounting for around 90% of the 500,000 UK car club members.
More and more boroughs are also looking to introduce or grow their car club network. However, the borough structure in London means the picture is not consistent across the city, with some boroughs doing more than others to grow car sharing.
The London borough structure undoubtedly adds complexity. For example, to operate Flex across London, you need permission from each individual borough. Each borough may manage the introduction of car sharing in slightly different ways – there may be different rules to operate, or different procurement processes, which may restrict the number of operators. This leads to a slower rate of growth and inconsistencies between boroughs – parking rules are different in many of the boroughs that we operate in for example, making it complicated for members to understand where they can and cannot park.
Despite the challenges inherent in the structure, there are boroughs that are at the forefront of car sharing growth.
The ones that are doing it the best are those that have a more ‘open’ policy – they have created a framework for operators, with controls and checks in place to ensure the borough can manage the number of vehicles. If an operator meets the conditions of the framework they can operate within the borough. Competition is encouraged. Car sharing is still relatively niche – more operators raises the broader awareness of car sharing and also provides a better outcome for residents and businesses as operators compete on service rather than who can operate in the borough.
As well as making it easier to grow car sharing, boroughs could also be more active in promoting car sharing alongside walking, cycling and public transport as an alternative to private car ownership.
Messages could be included in resident parking permit renewal notices or on borough websites. Zipcar has already committed to supporting and match funding the Mayor’s scrappage scheme, but there could also be opportunities for borough level incentives so residents don’t renew their parking permit, for example, such as discounts on membership or driving credit.
New property developments are another area where car sharing can support borough ambitions.
Zipcar already works with many property developers to ensure there is car club provision at new developments and we then work with the developer to promote this to new renters or owners – such as preferential sign-up offers or introductory driving credit. Planning policies vary from borough to borough, but as a starting point they should discourage private car ownership and look at ways to integrate car sharing more.
Parking has also a key role to play.
Some boroughs offer their residents incentives to encourage electric vehicles, by reducing the price of parking. However, not all these incentives for electric vehicles are applied to car clubs. There is more debate occurring around the role that car parking can play and its role in driving behaviour change and the move away from car ownership to sharing. A recent Centre for London report explored this in more detail, with suggestions for curbs on the number of car parking permits per households.
For us it is about building a collaboration with boroughs, GLA and TfL – understanding the local needs and challenges and working together to provide the right solution.
For example, when boroughs are looking to introduce new charging infrastructure, we can work with them to provide data showing where our electric vehicles are used and which locations would be most suitable.
London is moving in the right direction but there is a lot more that could be done if operators and boroughs worked more closely together.
London has a target for 80% of all journeys to be made on foot, by cycle or public transport by 2041. Car sharing can help London meet this target. We have already shown that after joining a car club, members walk, cycle and use public transport more. We now need to continue to grow car sharing in London so more of these benefits can be realised.
Main image: Photo provided by Zipcar