How Much Could Sharing Rather Than Owning Vehicles Reduce Greenhouse-Gas (GHG) Emissions?
The concept of vehicle-sharing is simple: individuals gain the benefits of private cars without the costs and responsibilities of ownership. Members of a vehicle-sharing service can access a fleet of geographically dispersed vehicles within a city or region on a short-term and as-needed basis. Vehicle-sharing is available in many U.S. cities; roughly 560,000 U.S. drivers (about 0.27 percent) belong to a vehicle-sharing organization.
A new RAND study that uses an approach called energy services analysis (ESA) finds that sharing rather than owning vehicles can reduce GHG emissions. A typical driver who shifts from owning a car to participating in a vehicle-sharing program would likely emit 893 kilograms (almost 2,000 pounds) of CO2 equivalent per year less than if he or she continued to own a car. The reductions--about 37 percent per driver--result from individuals driving fewer miles and driving more efficient vehicles; in addition, fewer vehicles need to be manufactured per driver.
These reductions are constrained by how well vehicle-sharing substitutes for vehicle ownership, so the study offers some policy options to encourage expansion. These include providing more parking spaces for shared vehicles and helping advance technologies that facilitate vehicle sharing.
Besides vehicle-sharing, the report included a second case study on delivering news through e-readers as opposed to newspapers. The study found far larger reductions: up to a 74 percent reduction in emissions per reader. In this case, changing how a service is delivered can be more effective in reducing GHG than by making an existing process more efficient. For e-readers, this is because the adoption potential is very high and the technology has been successful in the market.
Thinking About GHG Emissions in a Different Way
Liisa Ecola, a Senior Project Associate at RAND, is a transportation planner with interests in transportation finance, transit, transportation demand management, and environmental and land use impacts. She has focused on the intersection of transportation with climate policy and on road pricing, recently co-authored several reports on mileage-based user fees, and is working on two projects looking at future trends in mobility. She received her Masters in City Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. Read more about Liisa Ecola >>
Why use ESA to approach this topic?
ESA allows us to think about saving energy differently. People use energy to do things--go to work, make their house a comfortable temperature, find out what's going on in the world. With vehicle-sharing, for example, ESA focuses not on, "How can we make cars more efficient?" but on "How can we provide the same service--getting around to places that you have to drive to--in another way?"
Can ESA identify more effective ways to reduce energy use and GHG emissions than conventional ways to save energy?
It depends on the service. For vehicles, we looked at the "maximum potential" for vehicle-sharing. In that scenario, emissions from passenger transportation would fall by about 1.7 percent. That's definitely a smaller reduction compared with producing more efficient fuels and vehicles.
So we should keep trying to make cars more efficient, right?
Of course. There's no "silver bullet" to reducing GHG emissions. We need "silver buckshot"--that is, a whole variety of approaches. In transportation, the technologies that will dramatically reduce emissions and energy use aren't widely available yet: Either the technologies are not fully developed or they are too expensive for most car buyers, or the infrastructure to support them (like electric-vehicle charging stations) isn't widely available. But vehicle-sharing already exists, and transportation accounts for about one quarter to one-third of U.S. emissions.
What can be done to not only encourage more analysis of this type, but also to promote the new strategies that are identified?
We could promote additional research in ESA through various grants or competitions. As for facilitating the adoption of new solutions, it depends on the barrier that limits its adoption. Vehicle-sharing is already established in many cities and college towns, but there are issues about parking for shared vehicles or problems in securing insurance coverage. So the federal, state, and local governments could all play a role.
Are there other areas where ESA can help?
Absolutely. We did only two case studies--vehicle-sharing and newspaper publishing--but ESA can help identify efficiencies in other areas. For the food supply, we might look at substituting foods that can be grown more efficiently in certain climates, compare the energy to produce foods locally versus transporting them, or examine low-energy ways to prepare food. For clothing, we might look at how different fabrics are produced, or at whether we can make clothes last much longer, or at better ways to distribute both new and used clothing. As with newspapers and vehicle-sharing, it's hard to say if ESA analyses will lead to large efficiencies as opposed to moderate ones, but we won't know until we try.
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