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Can shared transport really help tackle pollution?

ride hailing app

Huge claims have been made for the potential of shared transport. Research and modelling have shown that – in theory – cities could achieve dramatic cuts in the numbers of vehicles on streets, congestion and parking requirements on the back of radically shared transport.

Take the example of the much-fêted paper ITF Urban Mobility System Upgrade. This was a modelling exercise which looked at the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. It treated all trips of less than a kilometre as walking or cycling, all longer journeys with up to a single interchange as public transport and the rest of journeys were assigned to a system of shared ride-hailing taxis of varying sizes.

The paper showed the potential to remove 90% of vehicles from the streets.

Given its findings, the potential appears enormous, leading to high expectations that shared transport will deliver all sorts of benefits to cities – from congestion reduction and air quality improvements to active travel and public health benefits.

But, what is the reality?

Several forms of shared transport, including car clubs, bike-share and lift sharing, have been around for a while. What indications are there – if any – that schemes and developments on the ground could ever live up to the hype? We seek real-world evidence the travelling public is keen to embrace shared transport in such a way that it could fulfil its claimed potential.

Technology as an enabler

The rise of transport-related technology means shared transport has become easier to develop, access and use.

Smartphones can enable instant access to bikes and cars, providing the means to plan, book and pay for trips and vehicles. Operators can now verify user identity online, get instant payments and access Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency records to ensure users have a valid licence.

This has enabled a plethora of new services – and a new cohort of people able and primed to access them.

But, as innovation in the sector increases inexorably, one of the key factors in take-up is consumer attitudes to sharing. The rise of Uber shows people are happy to use technology to summon and pay for transport – but are they willing to share?

Merge Greenwich

The Merge Greenwich project is developing a blueprint to assess the potential impact of a scalable autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service, integrated with existing public transport.

The project, backed by a consortium of leading mobility organisations including Addison Lee, Ford and the Transport Systems Catapult, has engaged in consumer research and modelling to assess the potential for using a combination of public and shared transport across the area to help increase transport connections.

The research scoped potential models for the service using different sized and specced vehicles and surveyed customers to determine their attitudes – and therefore the potential take-up. From this research, the team modelled the potential impacts – the numbers of vehicles needed and the viability of services – plus their impact on accessibility, transport hubs, road space, public transport and congestion and emissions.

Its research into the potential for automated ride-sharing services showed that, while 85% of people were willing to use an autonomous vehicle, only 46% were willing to share their journey in one.

In the simulation, the research focused on vehicle occupancy being key to reducing congestion and emissions – the higher the proportion of sharing, the greater the potential for benefits. However, an unwillingness to share could have negative consequences. 

A new type of travel customer is emerging and we will only see more new, shared and digital services developed to meet their needs and expectations. Read the full article, Is sharing the answer to pollution prayers? (PDF), taken from the Smart Transport Journal. 



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