22 Oct 2019
Warwickshire County Council serves quite a rural area.
A few years back, when a patchy bus service and a lack of parking facilities were causing issues for people trying to get to work, the council got a car-sharing scheme (Liftshare) to link up with the local bus company (Stagecoach).
Since then, it's been advising businesses in the area to hook up with both Liftshare and Stagecoach.
Thousands of Warwickshire residents have signed up to Liftshare and in doing so, they've helped avoid millions of tonnes of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. It is a success story which paves the way for other local authorities to embrace similar schemes.
What is car sharing?
So you drive to work every day, but you want to reduce your petrol and parking costs whilst also enjoying someone else’s company. What do you do?
You find a colleague or two who are more or less on your route to work and arrange to give them a lift each day. You share bills, chat, maybe even a taste in music and terrible radio ads. Before you know it you’re now part of a growing fleet of accidental eco-warriors.
Car sharing has obvious environmental benefits – even if they’re not the primary driver. And that’s one reason they’re catching the eye of local authorities that are trying to reduce their carbon emissions.
The numbers are startling. Nationally, well over half a million people are now signed up to Liftshare, the longest-running and largest provider of car-sharing systems in the UK.
Since Liftshare launched around 20 years ago, people in corporate and regional schemes have saved 820 million journey miles and 161,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s before you start counting localised air pollution and harder-to-measure effects such as reduced stress and better social networks.
And while nationally we’re hardly putting the brakes on roadbuilding, it would be fair to say that every car off the road eases demand on the network.
Liftshare boasts a haul of awards for digital and business innovation as well as an Ashden energy award, a highlight of the sustainable energy awards calendar. Indeed, you could say the business angle is what’s really moving car-sharing through the gears.
And that business angle is not just about watching the pennies, although this can be significant – national Liftshare members are estimated to have saved themselves a total of £81 million in 20 years.
The fact is, companies need their employees to be able to get to work, and if you’re a business considering a new location, how feasible and costly that is for employees is something that you look at carefully.
The question takes on added weight if you’re looking outside major urban centres – at rural or shire counties such as Warwickshire.
That’s why, when speaking to Warwickshire County Council’s team leader for transport planning, Margaret Smith, she was keen to involve the council’s inward investment manager, Ian Flynn, in the conversation about lift-sharing.
“Back in 2014-15 we were doing some work with a site with potential to employ up to 6,500 people. Some of the occupants were struggling to get to the site on public transport. There was a bus service that ran five and a half days a week, partly subsidised,” says Flynn.
“What we did was to bring together the bus company, Liftshare and local agencies. We were able to increase the frequency of the bus service but also get Liftshare heavily involved with the companies there and talk about a site-wide lift-share scheme.
“Liftshare and the bus company Stagecoach were looking to work together nationally and wanted somewhere to pilot this kind of joint working with local agencies.”
The pilot at Birch Coppice, a logistics and manufacturing site in North Warwickshire, 15 miles north east of Birmingham “worked very well,” says Flynn. “It was a win for everybody. It made the site more attractive to potential new investors, helped existing employers and encouraged sustainable green travel.
“Since then, when we have issues with employers struggling with parking, for example, it’s one of the things we’ve been able to suggest – that they speak to Liftshare and the bus company.”
From the Birch Coppice pilot, the scheme has spread. In the 5 years since Warwickshire got involved with Liftshare, some 8,000 people have signed up as members.
“We’ve tended to focus on sites where there’s an issue for employers. Some of them may have enough parking but there are constraints – perhaps because of the hours of operation of the business park, people being able to get into and out of the site.”
“We’re a shire authority,” says Margaret Smith. “We’ve got quite a rural area, so it’s about connectivity and accessibility for a workforce, and being able to access jobs. It’s about economic growth in terms of making sites more attractive to investors.”
“What comes as part of that is the reduced congestion potentially. And also taking journeys off the road,” she adds.
That’s a side-effect not to be sniffed at: the Warwickshire and Coventry scheme’s members have made 700,000 shared journeys a year, saving an estimated 68 million road miles and 13 million tonnes of CO2.
The journey is not over – Smith thinks more companies could be involved. With the local Enterprise Partnership across Coventry and Warwickshire, she and her team have mapped the location of big employers along the area’s main transport corridors.
“It’s just to put it out there to say we’ve got some really good examples, this is how we could replicate this on a bigger scale,” says Smith. “We’re still in that process but hopefully it will lead to a business breakfast and encourage more companies to get involved.”
How the council is involved
In a nutshell, the scheme works like this: Liftshare is a private company that owns the digital platform and app that individuals and companies sign up to. Working with the council it has created a regional version of the platform to be relevant to users in Warwickshire and Coventry.
The council’s role is to facilitate relationships between Liftshare and other transport providers – and crucially to communicate the benefits to potential users.
Flynn says: “Sometimes businesses are actively coming to us and asking if we have ideas. That’s where having Liftshare and this partnership arrangement and this umbrella site come in – we’re able to promote that as one tool that they can use.”
“Set-up cost was relatively modest,” says Smith. “And in terms of the ongoing support that we now give, it’s extremely modest – a matter of a couple of thousand pounds a year at the moment.”
Initial money came from grant funding primarily to build a railway station. From that, Smith’s team were able to look at putting in place other sustainable transport measures across the wider area.
“It’s partly down to the work that we do, but we also need to acknowledge the really good work that local employers are doing,” Smith says.
“There are some very large employers in the area – National Grid, Jaguar Land Rover, Ocado, Wolseley – who are on the Liftshare scheme and who are extremely active in encouraging their employees to use the scheme.
“From a local authority perspective, we see our role as demonstrating [the benefits] to other business. It’s not the authority telling you what to do; it’s saying there’s really good business practice here.
"It makes business sense to do this in terms of attracting employers in terms of investors coming to sites. I think it’s a really powerful message that we’re able to share with other companies and hopefully replicate some of the really good work that’s going on.”
Benefits of car sharing
Smith reckons that “one thing that is very good about Liftshare is that it doesn't stand still. It is always looking at new ways to improve the offer to businesses – for example looking at multimodal travel for employees.”
For example, Liftshare is working on integrating cycle share schemes. The idea is that if you were sharing a car journey to a town centre, the app would enable you to complete your journey by bike.
“A key message for us is that people don’t need to Liftshare 5 times a week,” says Smith. “Some people have other commitments, they might work flexible hours – there’s a whole host of reasons they might not want to commit to lift sharing 5 days a week. But if everyone could Liftshare one day a week then you’ve taken 20% of cars off the network.”
For all the evidence and rational arguments in favour of lift-sharing, we’re talking about the possibility of strangers getting into your car. Which might be a more difficult sell at the personal level than it is in the boardroom.
Senior Transport planner Dan Morris accepts that personal safety – actual and perceived – has to be taken seriously.
“Some members of staff don’t know who they might be getting into a car with and they might have massive reservations about that. And that's where some of the hand-holding work that I do comes in – to reassure companies that Liftshare can support that. We have to assure companies that security and safety are paramount,” he says.
“The technology that Liftshare is using now is mobile app-driven. So if you’re getting into a car with somebody that you haven’t travelled with before, you scan each other’s code and Liftshare holds this data that now says that 2 people are travelling into work, so everything is accountable.”
A better travel culture
There is some evidence that engaging people in lift-sharing can encourage people to consider other sustainable forms of transport.
Eastleigh Borough Council, for example, decided to relocate their offices closer to the town centre to better serve residents, becoming more visible and accessible to the community. To help with the move, they used data-driven travel plans created through Liftshare.
Results showed that 34% of respondents said they had considered changing the way they travelled as a result of receiving their travel plan.
The outcome was a modal shift of 26%, which saw single-occupancy vehicle journeys fall by a third, an 80% jump in the number of people cycling and train use more than doubling.
Warwickshire’s Ian Flynn says: “Very often what Liftshare will do is have a lunchtime session where people can drop in and find out more.
"What can happen then is that a HR department will bring along another option. At Birch Coppice a local cycling group got involved – I think there were people already cycling in to Birch Coppice and so they were able to include that in the lunchtime drop-in. There must be some knock-on effect of those.”
Lessons for other local authorities
Smith emphasises the role of companies in promoting the schemes:
“How successful it is does depend on how proactive that company wishes to be in promoting the scheme. We can help find those hooks and demonstrate the benefits but still they will have to put in some effort and energy.
“You have to have people willing to work with you and part of that is finding the hook, finding what their particular issue is. That’s where combining the transport planning team effort with business engagement and inward investment teams has worked very well.
“It does require that people-resource and a real commitment. But part of our role is to demonstrate – and we’re trying to do this through business breakfasts and things like that – just to get that message out there.
Good data on local employers clearly helps:
“We’re able to pinpoint companies with a high reliance on single-occupancy car use, where their journeys are fairly lengthy, so they're probably not going to be able to walk or cycle. I think having that evidence when you have the initial conversation with a company - it sets out that there’s real potential here,” says Smith.
If you think lift sharing is only for countryside commuters, she has this to say:
“I’d say it equally applies to a city region as it does to a more rural area. In some ways, if you have a city you’ve got potentially bigger numbers going to a central place.”
“The relevance of it being useful for a shire area is more about where we might struggle with other options, or just how it compliments other options. We are essentially an area that’s a mixture of large market towns.
“The biggest thing people will say to us is I haven’t got an alternative - I have to come by car. We’re able to challenge back and say ‘Well have you thought about car share and the money you’re able to save?’”
In good company
When speaking about the benefits of car-sharing, Morris concluded, “It’s quite nice to have some interaction with someone on the way into work before you start, get a priority car-parking space when you arrive and then start work on a different foot than you probably did making your own single car journey.”