Fleet News

Car share controversy

The concept of sharing lifts to or from work isn’t a new one; people have been doing it for years.

But in this environmentally-conscious age, the idea of getting more people into fewer cars has become even more appealing.

The Government is keen on the concept of workplace travel planning and, along with various charities and other organisations, is promoting formal car-sharing schemes.

Last month, the Department for Transport (DfT) launched a report into car-sharing practices in the UK.

At first glance, the report seems very positive. It surveyed drivers about their travel habits over the previous month and found that 61% had undertaken some form of car sharing during that time.

But there has been controversy over the report. Some criticised the findings for not reflecting what the man in the street regards as car sharing.

John Lettice, founder of popular science and technology website The Register, says: “The less creative thinkers among us are likely to think of car sharing as regular arrangements where two or more people share the journey to work in a single vehicle, thus reducing costs, peak-hour congestion and pollution.

“But for the sprinklers of magic happy dust at the DfT, such utilitarian definitions would appear to produce an insufficiently green result.

"Search in the raw data for evidence of what ordinary mortals might understand as car sharing and you find instead roads brimming with phalanxes of vehicles occupied by single, planet-wrecking ne’er-do-wells.”

Indeed, the report does count anyone that had a lift from someone outside their family at least once in the past month as having taken part in car sharing.

When you look into the figures more closely, you find that only 1% of respondents were actually part of a formal car-sharing scheme.

But car-sharing organisations, although not completely happy with the report, reject the concerns of Mr Lettice.

“I think it’s good that the Government is taking an interest in car sharing, but it’s not showing us anything we didn’t know before,” says Ali Clabburn, managing director of LiftShare.

“In the UK, 38% of trips are made with just one person in the car, which means 62% are made with more than one person. I would include sharing with family, friends and colleagues in my definition of car sharing.

"I don’t quite understand why they have taken out family members. Saying they don’t count is ridiculous.”

Antonia Roberts, co-director of Car Plus, agrees: “The majority of car sharing is done informally but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing or a misrepresentation.

“It can be only a good thing because it’s part of people’s psyche to take that approach.”

Advocates of car sharing agree that the report helps to raise public awareness of the issue.

They, and organisations like them, are working with businesses to introduce more workplace car-sharing schemes.


“Employers can do so much more,” says Mrs Roberts.

“Some firms are paying lip service in setting up schemes but not encouraging people to use them. It’s still relatively early days.

"There are a lot of councils that have employees embracing the concept, so there are schemes there, but they are not being encouraged enough. There is much more that can be done.”

Mr Clabburn agrees. He says: “There is huge potential to encourage car sharing. We are setting up about four company schemes a week, but it’s something that hasn’t really been in the public consciousness here as it has in other countries, such as the United States.

“We set up schemes to help staff cut the number of miles they do on their commute.

“We also do a lot of work with companies trying to cut down business miles.

"By matching up employees they can have huge savings in the miles they do through work. If employees share a car, firms save 40p per mile for one of the passengers.”

The report in numbers

In the month before being interviewed, 61% of people had taken part in car sharing.

But just 1% were members of a formal lift-sharing scheme run by their employer or another organisation.

Of those that had received lifts, 42% said the last occasion had been for a one-off journey or one that would occur less than once a month.

In 28% of cases, the lift took place at least once a week.

Of those who were given lifts, 28% said they made the same journey by another means at least once a week, usually by driving themselves.

Most of the car-share journeys (63%) were of 20 minutes or less.

Some 22% were between 21 and 45 minutes and 15% were in excess of 45 minutes.

A quarter of those who received a lift said the journey was either a business commute or travelling for work.

Convenience was the most common reason for car sharing (63%), 25% couldn’t drive themselves, 8% did it because they wanted to reduce road congestion and 7% gave environmental reasons.

Men aged between 35 and 54 and those on the highest incomes were most likely to have driven on a daily basis.

Only a fifth of Londoners drive every day, and 53% had not driven at all in the month before the survey. Women and young people aged between 16 and 24 were most likely to have travelled as a passenger at least once a week.

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