Fleet News

Green transport: car sharing

ONE way to cut congestion and pollution on UK roads would be to get more people into fewer cars.

Summary

  • More local authorities could soon introduce car-sharing lanes.
  • Tax breaks exist for those that share business journeys, although take-up seems to be low.
  • Company-based schemes could be more effective.

    NEXT time you’re on the road, take a look at the cars around you. How many contain more people than just the driver?

    Chances are the answer is ‘not many’. The average occupancy of a car is falling, from 1.64 people in 1991 to 1.59 in 2004, according to the Department for Transport. In 2005, 61% of cars on the roads had only one occupant.

    At the same time, the number of cars on the road is rising – up 1.8% from 2004 to 2005 to 26,208,000, a rise driven by company motorists. The registration of company cars rose 6.1% over the same period, according to the DVLA.

    LANES

    THE government wants to see us share more. Working on the assumption that similar numbers of people are travelling, it’s easy to conclude that more people are travelling alone. So how to get them sharing again?

    The DfT has just issued guidance to local authorities on the best way of converting often-empty bus lanes into high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to relieve congestion at busy times.

    Such lanes are common in the US, but less so over here. The premise is simple – cars with passengers are allowed to hop into the bus lanes and zip past the queues of lone drivers.

    At the moment, cameras that monitor bus lanes aren’t able to tell how many people are in a car, so enforcement is carried out by police, paid for by the local authority, with local council officials noting down number plates which are passed to police.

    Three such non-motorway schemes currently exist in the UK – in Leeds, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset – but following their success we could now see more employed nationwide.

    In Leeds, the introduction of an HOV scheme to the A647 saw a reduction in journey times for those using the lane from 10 minutes to six minutes during morning rush hour over a 2,000m stretch.

    In South Gloucestershire, travel time over the area of the A4174 covered by the HOV lane went down from 21 minutes to four minutes for those using the lane, and to five minutes for those not using it.

    The DfT also plans to introduce a car-sharing lane on the M1 near St Albans at the end of 2008.

    TAX

    FOR the general motorist, sharing a car with a friend could reduce journey times and congestion. But what can the fleet industry do itself to promote sharing?

    Although not too many people seem to know about it, the government has been offering a 5p business mileage allowance per passenger per mile for the past four years.

    The Inland Revenue does not keep track of how much is paid out and whether take-up is rising or falling, but research at the end of last year by Accountancy Age magazine suggests most businesses aren’t finding the incentive worthwhile – rarely is car sharing feasible. Travelling alone is generally considered much more convenient and 5p is not enough to make up for the extra time needed to get staff to different places.

    Liz Hollands, of DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, says: ‘Car sharing isn’t all that relevant in our business as professionals are usually travelling on their own and, anyway, most of our cars are a perk rather than for company use. There are occasions when a senior and junior may travel together but it’s very rare. It’s just not a very significant issue for us.’

    CASH

    PERHAPS tax allowances are not the way forward then. But it is possible to convince staff to share vehicles. A company in Leeds may have found the answer – wave cash under their noses.

    Online search firm Infoserve has introduced a car share scheme that pays employees to take part. Drivers who bring one or two colleagues to work will receive £5 per passenger from the company each month.

    If they bring in three or four colleagues, they receive £10 for each passenger each month.

    Chief executive officer Steve Barnes said that forthcoming expansion plans would mean more people and more cars travelling to and from Infoserve’s three offices in Leeds and Darlington.

    ‘We wondered how we could actually encourage people to leave their cars at home and get a lift with a work mate,’ he says.

    ‘With our ‘Deals for Wheels’ scheme it’s a great incentive for them to get together and share their cars – not to mention the benefit it will have on the environment and the roads.’

    Infoserve has yet to put a financial cost on the scheme as it has yet to start paying out, but the take-up has been very positive, it claims.

    A spokeswoman for the company says: ‘We’re not looking at it in a financial sense, we want to lower emissions, reduce congestion and improve social interaction between the staff.

    ‘It’s going to encourage existing and new staff to get to know each other.’

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