Going Green – The Alternatives to Driving
In a recent post we looked at some of the ways that the ‘green-minded’ driver can reduce their environmental impact. This covered a lot of ground, from vehicle selection, to alternative ‘usership’ options, to driving styles that reduce emissions.
But, given the context of recent protests and the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’, it seems only right that we extend this discussion to look at alternatives to driving and how, with a little thought and effort, we could all be relying less on cars, reducing levels of congestion and avoiding the inevitable environmental damage that car journeys cause.
Don’t tell me I’m going to have to walk?
Well, to some extent, yes!
Government statistics1 show that in 2017, out of all trips under a mile, 81% of them were walked and just 16% were carried out in a car or van. But for trips between one and two miles, walking drops to 30% and car/van trips rise to 60%. The statistics for cycling are even worse, with just 3% of trips between one and two miles and two and five miles being cycled.
It’s clear that there are many more short journeys that could be completed on foot or by cycle. Not only could this have a very significant impact on congestion and emissions, it could also provide many people with much needed incidental exercise.
Even for those without the ability to walk or cycle significant distances, there are options other than taking the car. Across demographics there has been a huge rise in the popularity of personal electric transport in the forms of e-scooters, various forms of mobility scooters and electrically assisted bikes.
All of these devices circumvent the fundamental inefficiency of cars, in that they weigh little more (or even less) than their occupants, while cars would, on average, weigh over 20 times more than a single occupant.
It is generally accepted (though the argument isn’t absolutely clear-cut) that trains and buses emit less carbon and other harmful pollutants than private cars on a mile per person basis.
But again, the proportion of journeys travelled by public transport in the UK are surprisingly small. For journeys of five to ten miles, 13% are carried out by bus and 7% by train2 (with around half of all these journeys being within London). Looking at longer trips (10 to 25 miles) the figures for bus journeys shrinks to 4%, but train journeys increase to 12%.
We all know that the public transport system in the UK is far from perfect, but the imbalance between private car journeys and bus / train journeys is one that we should all consider addressing.
As, long-awaited, ‘mobility as a service’ solutions finally begin to arrive, providing genuinely integrated transport solutions across modes, this may encourage more people to make the switch from private to public transport for at least a proportion of their journeys.
Don’t make unnecessary trips
Perhaps an obvious point, but 21st century technology means that fewer and fewer journeys can be classified as truly essential. For many, the focus here will understandably be on commuting and business journeys, but Government statistics3 also highlight the trend towards replacing shopping trips and visits to friends and family with online activity.
Telecommuting – According to ONS figures4, more than four million people in the UK have their home as their main place of work, and this reflects the massive improvements in connectivity that have taken place during the last decade, along with changing attitudes of employers towards remote working. Some predictions suggest that in the next few years around half of the entire workforce will be telecommuting, as more employers take advantage of the cost, environmental and staff recruitment benefits of home working.
Teleconferencing – If the need to travel to a central point to work is disappearing then it also makes sense to question whether business journeys to other sites, clients and suppliers make any sense. Again, technology has improved, and the cost reduced, so much that, other than for the sake of physical proximity, it’s hard to make a good argument for travelling for face-to-face meetings.
Shopping online – This is a highly contentious issue and, in reality, there is no definitive answer to whether buying online and having item being delivered actually creates more or less environmental damage than driving to a store. The factors that play into this debate include:
- Distance to the store(s) you intend to visit
- Local traffic congestion conditions
- The speed at which you demand delivery from the online store
- The efficiency of the journey planning of the online retailer and the number of parcels carried per truck
- The amount and type of packaging that the online retailer uses
- Whether the item you buy from a physical store has already been through multiple delivery cycles from manufacturer, to wholesaler to retailer – buying locally grown / produced goods can go a long way to alleviating this
So, while cars still play a vital role in business and personal mobility and are likely to do so with a smaller overall environmental impact as electric vehicles (EVs) become the default choice for most journeys, there are other, compelling, options available.
And, while the switch to electric can improve the air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (assuming non-fossil fuel electricity sources), simply replacing petrol and diesel cars with EVs won’t solve the congestion issues in our towns and cities. This means that looking at the broadest range of alternatives to private car use is essential.
1 Department for Transport: Walking and Cycling Statistics, England: 2017
2 National Statistics: Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2018
3 Department for Transport: National Travel Survey: 2018
4 ONS: Homeworkers by UK region, 2008 compared to 2018