Studies have shown that cars are central to the fabric of daily life, and social patterns, city infrastructure and economic institutions have all been centred around the private automobile. With this form of mobility so entrenched into societal structures, people are often unwilling to adopt ‘pro-environmental behaviours’, such as reducing car use, despite knowing of its negative externalities. It’s clear that more than just government intervention is needed to decrease car use, and there needs to be a societal shift in people’s values and attitudes.
Most of the research on the problem of cars has focused on environmental issues, without considering the social implications of car use, which includes car use fuelling social isolation, individualism and even rightward shifts in political ideology. However, despite these environmental and social problems, cars are still needed to transport items that may not be compatible with public transport, and trains and busses may not be accessible to everyone or suit their mobility needs.
A promising solution to this urban automobile problem is the emergence of car clubs – a fleet of cars owned by a company distributed through London and accessed via an app. This concept challenges interpretations of private mobility in London, granting the potential to encourage lower carbon living whilst still being accessible to many, and adding societal value. This is why I was interested in researching the role of car clubs in achieving London’s sustainable transport future for my master’s dissertation
Understanding the public sentiment towards car clubs
I wanted to investigate what people value in their mobility choices, and how this aligned with the benefits promoted by the car clubs and other public sector stakeholders.
For this research, I conducted a content analysis of eight public and private sector stakeholder communication documents, such as from the UK Government and from car club companies, to see what benefits of car clubs were highlighted and promoted.
With the results of this analysis, I created six promotional pieces for a hypothetical car club - each themed around one of the benefits found. These were:
- Benefits for the local environment
- Benefits for the global environment
- Benefits for the community
- Economic Benefits
- Being innovative and looking to the future
To understand which of these benefits people based in London valued and any barriers they face to using car clubs, I reached out to people online and then conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 people.