Going electric beyond car ownership

I do not own a car and never have done. And, I have zero plans to own an electric vehicle either.

As an eMobility analyst and advocate, those statements can make me reel with awkwardness to say. Rather than regret exclusion from the EV club, this year I have taken a deeper look at how I can support the transition of other vehicles from petrol and diesel to electric.

Here I want to offer a short discussion on why EV ownership is not for me and a four-part framework for anyone (car or no car) to explore deeper personal transport decarbonisation.

Should I get an EV?

“You come here, tell us all about EVs and now you tell us you don’t even have a petrol? That is great!” My clients fell about laughing at the end of the workshop.

This was all in good humour of course but I still think about it, wishing I had come up with some hilariously witty response like “you don’t have to be a small crustacean to be an expert on krill” or the like. Still working on it.

In my professional world of research, insight and opinion, there are considerable knowledge benefits of owning an EV. However, the experience of driving an EV does not reduce the potential of personal bias, indeed, there is a risk that personal anecdote can deviate from the independent market-wide trend I seek to offer.

EV driving experience is valuable so it should inform the research question, annotate the results but should be separated from the perspective that makes the published analysis. EV driving experience is a fantastic asset but I am not persuaded that EV ownership is a career necessity.

Does that make my life car-free?

Like a growing number of people I know, not owning a car is a lifestyle choice. For the past decade, I have actively chosen to find jobs and accommodation in locations where I can conduct most journeys by foot, bicycle or public transport only (recent jobs have taken me further afield requiring more creativity).

Reasons for not owning a car vary, typically from economic to convenience. For me, both of these are blended with the environmental rationale. Choosing to go car-free is better than owning an EV to build a low carbon lifestyle. Ultimately, EV ownership is not the way forward for going low carbon at this stage of my life, and I hope many more.

However, I steer clear from saying I lead a “car-free” life. I genuinely doubt anyone does. I really enjoy driving, being driven and, most significantly, things being driven to me. I fully recognise that most of this is done with petrol or diesel vehicles today. If I want to do better than EV ownership, I really need to tackle these parts of my life too.

How to go electric without the ownership

I have been challenging myself to think more about what I can do to have more EVs around me in my life. I started by asking myself the following three questions:

  1. What journeys does my lifestyle create?
  2. What influence can I have in the transition to EV?
  3. How much impact can that have in reducing emissions?

From these questions I found four clusters of journeys based on my lifestyle, all with different levels of influence and frequency of journeys. I quite literally put pen to paper and have come up with this draft of a framework:

Sketching my framework for going electric without ownership.

Step 1: EV rental

Sometimes I want to access a private car for a day or a week. This is traditionally the space for rental and more recently, car clubs and peer to peer start-ups.

The challenge has been finding the companies that can offer the right EV at an affordable price for the customer while maintaining a viable business model. Things are beginning to change, there are lots of exciting start-ups challenging the incumbents.

Most importantly, I can have significant influence here. I can set my own policy to say I only rent EV in the future. If enough people do this, the impact could be tremendous.

Step 2: EV borrow

I am fortunate to live in proximity to my family. This means occasional lift-sharing or car-borrowing when the insurance policy will allow.

None of these cars are electric, but increasingly the topic comes up in conversation: how do I get my next car to be electric?

I can and should use my knowledge to help guide the answer to that question, to make it as informed as possible. While the climate impact is low in terms of number of vehicles, my influence in supporting the transition to electric can remain large.

Step 3: EV taxi

More commonly still, I would take an Uber, Kapten, or black cab to get around town when late for a meeting or early to the bar. In cities across Europe, these taxi fleets have grown considerably and initiatives to electrify entire fleets are underway.

I can again have consumer influence through voting with my apps and my thumb, as long as the information is provided to the customer. There are start-ups offering EV-only taxi or minicab services, ahead of the larger providers bringing in policies.

Step 4: EV delivery

What I believe to be the most common of journeys created because of me are deliveries. It is something that has inevitably increased and become more visible to me while working from home. At my street-side desk, I witness around 10 deliveries to about five neighbours’ addresses on a typical day.

Can I have influence? Not so much as I am not given a choice of delivery provider, let alone told what type of vehicle it may come in. This can and will change over the coming decade and I want to help instigate that.

Taking this EV framework forward

I have spent my spare lockdown time exploring each of these, so, over the coming weeks, I will write a series of blogs on my four steps and how I have got on so far. Hopefully, that may inform or inspire more people on how we can all contribute to the electric transition, regardless of who actually owns the cars.

And, any feedback, please pass it on. I’d be delighted to hear it.

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