Our transport system is undergoing a revolution, thanks to technological innovations – including electric and driverless vehicles – on the one hand and air quality scandal on the other. These dramatic changes bring the promise of cleaner air, better health and reduced emissions. However if we are to deliver these sustainability benefits then we need to start looking beyond the vehicles themselves and think about transport and travel more holistically. Crucially, we must ask the question: how can our homes and buildings help to encourage more sustainable transport options?
The drive towards a more sustainable transport system has accelerated in recent months, thanks in large part to three key innovations:
1.Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Hybrid and electric car sales have been growing exponentially since 2010 and last year the number of electric cars on the road globally surpassed two million. This trend shows no sign of slowing either. Lower costs and better battery ranges are making electric cars an increasingly attractive option, while car manufacturers and policy-makers alike are helping to drive the movement; in July the UK government plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040.
It is hugely exciting to be at a point where technology is enabling such a seismic sustainability shift, but this doesn’t mean that it will always be a smooth ride from here forwards. One key concern regarding electric cars is the availability of infrastructure, and this is where homes and office properties can come in. By installing infrastructure including charge points, businesses, local authorities and individuals can help smooth the transition towards vehicles that can help lead to an overall reduction in emissions. A recent study found that, on average, electric cars already account for 50% less greenhouse gas than diesel cars across their entire lifecycle, and this gap will only increase as more renewable power is generated.
2.Car share schemes
Riding on the back of an emerging ‘sharing economy’, which spans everything from office spaces to Airbnb, car share opportunities have seen an upsurge in popularity. This is a trend to watch because it calls into question the necessity of car ownership. Why pay for a private car, and the exorbitant insurance and inherent risks that come with it, if we know there’s one just a phone call away? Rental services such as Enterprise are helping to encourage this change in mind-set, but there is much that organisations can do to help employees arrange shared commutes and business trips.
3. Autonomous vehicles
For most of us it still feels as though driverless or autonomous vehicles belong more within the realms of science fiction than day-to-day life. However, with predictions that automated cars could be on the road by 2022 , this sci-fi future could be closer than we realise. These innovations could truly remove the need for car ownership, since automated vehicles could be summoned as needed before moving on to the next user. If this is the case, we need to start thinking seriously about how we build our houses: in the future, will driveway spaces really be necessary? Or could we increase garden space instead?
With all the hype around these big ideas, it’s easy to forget that some of the simplest options may also be the best when it comes to sustainable transport. Alternatives to cars, including bicycles, buses and trains, can offer significant environmental, economic and health benefits. Yet Sustainable Homes’ Review, ‘Safe as Houses’, found that multi-tenure landlords were realising just 11% of possible sustainable transport initiatives.
- Bicycles: The benefits of cycling are well-documented: it can even halve the risk of cancer and heart disease. However the percentage of commuters travelling by bike is still below 5% in most areas. To increase this, a holistic approach is needed; cycle storage provision in residences must go hand in hand with safe cycle routes and bike parking provision and shower facilities at work. A coordinated strategy involving businesses, housing associations, local authorities and cyclists themselves is therefore vital.
- Public transport: By providing localised information on buses and trains, organisations including housing associations can help ensure that citizens make the most of public transport. When striving to ease congestion and overcapacity though, it is important to look beyond the vehicles and consider ways to reduce the overall need to travel. Organisations and particularly housing associations are well-placed to help revolutionise our commuting practices; by providing fast broadband, sufficient workspaces in the home and flexible HR policies they can reduce the need for tenants and employees to travel at all.
Sustainable transport is closer than we think. Technologies are coming on in leaps and bounds, and autonomous EVs may be, if not around the corner, then at least a little further down the street. But to make the most of sustainable options, we must have the infrastructure to support them. And in the excitement over futuristic solutions, we must not forget that we have the means for low-carbon, healthy travel, right here, right now. By properly supporting the full technology mix, we can prove that there’s no need to go to hell in a handcart (or a fuel-guzzling hatchback) – we can head towards a sustainable future in trains and on bikes instead!
For more on Sustainable Homes’ analysis of transport and other aspects of sustainability in housing, see The Review: Safe as Houses, Sustainability of the social housing sector
Sustainable Homes can also carry out high level and in-depth assessments of your organisation’s fleet vehicles. Please contact Begum Nash to find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0208 973 0387