Thursday, July 10, 2008

Car pools: a chance to change driving habits

By Jim Bendfeldt

ABC News Online

Posted 3 hours 31 minutes ago
Updated 2 hours 59 minutes ago

Bumper to bumper... early morning commuters come to a standstill in their cars on a main road in Sydney. (Reuters: Tim Wimborne, file photo)

Last week, whilst waiting for a bus on busy Liverpool Road, Ashfield, Sydney during the afternoon peak, I did a 20-minute head count of occupants of passing motor vehicles. I was astounded to find that approximately 80 per cent, or four in five cars, were passenger-less and all heading in the same general direction.

With the price of fuel approaching the $2.00 per litre mark, and an electorate, stirred up by the media, putting increased pressure on the major parties to bring down the cost of petrol, it's time that government at all levels started looking at one practical measure that could reduce fuel costs for motorists, reduce the number of cars on the road and reduce the greenhouse gas emitted: car pooling.

Car pooling has become increasingly popular in Europe, the UK and the United States, but has never been seriously supported by state or federal governments in Australia.

Although car pooling would not suit all commuters, if one in six private motor vehicles carried two passengers or one in three cars carried one passenger, the number of cars on the road would be reduced by a third as would fuel costs and consumption, which in turn would make an immediate impact on motor vehicle emission levels.

Ultimately we should be looking at replacing petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles with solar or hydrogen powered versions, but due to lack of research and development by governments and industry, this is still some way off. Likewise the outer suburbs of many of our major cities are generally lacking in appropriate public transport infrastructure and safe cycleways, so these alternative methods of travelling are not always possible.

Coordination, education, reward

To successfully implement an effective car pools program to our cities requires three key prerequisites: coordination, public education and reward.

Coordination is one of the key factors in getting a successful car pool program operational, as passengers and collection points need to be linked to drivers and destinations.

One method of coordinating such a program would be by recruiting a team of regional car pool coordinators, who could be based with local councils or regional peak non-government agencies, and would work closely with federal, state and local government agencies, businesses and industries, initially targeting those organisations with larger workforces, who travel to and from single workplace destinations.

Their key roles would include:

  • Promoting car pooling within local workplaces and communities;
  • Establishing workplace registers of willing and interested drivers and passengers;
  • Lobbying local councils to provide parking incentives for car pool participants;
  • Lobbying local shopping malls and sporting venues to provide priority parking.

Public education would be facilitated through local and regional media, e.g. feel-good radio and TV commercials depicting happy, less-stressed motorists travelling to and from work in the company of their coworkers, of neighbours getting together and sharing vehicles during the day to go shopping, and parents taking turns dropping off and picking up children from school and sporting events.

A national website would need to be developed and properly promoted, to provide information on local car pools and contacts, incorporating an enquiries database where participating motorists/passengers could be registered and linked.

A reward system would also need to be implemented to encourage motorists to participate in car pooling schemes.

Not only would car poolers be able to share fuel costs and use extended transit (car pool) lanes, but e-tags could be re-programmed to entitle participating motorists to reduced charges on toll roads and bridges, and a suitable windscreen sticker would entitle them to reduced parking fees, and priority parking at sporting events, shopping malls and entertainment venues.

State governments could participate by reducing motor vehicle registration and green slip insurance costs to vehicle owners participating in car pooling.

Pilot projects

Initially, two or three pilot projects would need to be established in each capital city and some in selected large regional cities, targeting motorists/commuters in those suburbs that are poorly serviced by public transport. These projects would also need to be carefully evaluated so that any fine-tuning of the program could be conducted before a national roll-out.

Large-scale internet-booked car pools have been operating successfully in Europe and North America for many years, and could easily be replicated in Australia. Today in the US, many cities have designated car pool stops where motorists pick up their passengers daily, and many major roads in Britain and Europe have special car pool lanes.

For a third of the cost of the Rudd Government's recent $35 million gift to Toyota to import Camry hybrid vehicles, over 100 regional car pool coordination projects could have been set up in various local government areas across Australia.

Although car pooling is not on its own, a long-term solution for reducing greenhouse gases, it could assist in immediately facilitating low-cost greenhouse gas reductions, whilst at the same time reducing traffic volume and road maintenance costs. Also, when we start moving on from the present infernal combustion engines to new less or non-polluting technology, car pooling will help to reduce future traffic jams.

There are already a few smaller commercial and non-commercial schemes operating in Australia, mainly in inner-city areas. With serious government support, car pooling could be introduced to many outer urban areas and regional cities.

Jim Bendfeldt is a Sydney commuter with an interest in environmental issues.

Go to Climate Emergency News for other recent stories

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