Disrupted Transport – why invest in trains?

iDisrupted Commentary by guest writer, Richard BarberDisrupted Transport - why high speed trains?

Information shared efficiently allows disruption, reduces waste and feedback mechanisms provide the trust to allow the sharing economy to work. In a hyper-connected world cars can quickly become the solution and not the problem. Government’s determination to spend huge sums on rail infrastructure projects are a waste of scarce resources and will have an incidental impact on the overall transportation capacity.

BlaBlaCar’s research suggests that over 68% of all available seats travelling from city to city each day are in cars in the UK, yet the government intends to invest somewhere between £40 – £60bn HS2 and other rail infrastructure projects that will take at least 10 years to build and add negligible overall capacity increases. By the time these are completed, driverless cars will be a reality and with the current rate of improvement in battery technology, all but the longest journeys will be achievable using electric vehicles. With automation, it’s also probable that these journeys will be able to be done at much higher speeds than cars can safely be driven today.

BlaBlaCar, provides a solution for people travelling and at scale should be able to significantly reduce congestion on city to city routes. UberCommute potentially solves a similar problem for commuters, but neither deals with the huge number of vehicles parked doing nothing 90% of the time. To do that Government needs to help facilitate car sharing.

Zipcar isn’t the future in cities, it is more expensive than Uber, it is less convenient as you have to get to the car you want to borrow and it’s run by a company and their motive is to make money, not reduce costs, unlike Uber it’s providing a service that should already exist. Uber is merely making an existing service more efficient.

Instead, true car clubs such as EasyCarClub which involve people sharing their own cars feels intuitively more likely to succeed, but at present there are too many barriers that stop this activity and this is where Government and councils could help.

So, rather than wasting vast sums of money, offering expensive, albeit quick transportation the government should spend a fraction of that money enabling the sharing economy by providing trust to its users and reducing friction in the process.  The government’s report on the sharing economy covers most of the right areas, but the recommendations are too insipid to bring about transformational changes offered by the sharing economy:

Tax incentives
Cars are expensive, a sign of status and loved by their owners, so getting owners to share them has to provide significant benefits without hassle. Tax is a barrier and one that disproportionately impacts those most likely to have underutilised vehicles (ONS data), that unsurprisingly shows that higher income households have proportionally more cars. Tax therefore negates the benefit of sharing. This could be changed by providing “sharing economy” allowances that allow people to reduce their costs, but not profit on the basis that these services provide a gain to society.

Alternatively, there could be some simple rules that allows owners to offset depreciation/maintenance costs against tax. Whatever the solution, it could and should be applied across all areas of the sharing economy.

Councils could help by offering parking discounts and dedicated bays for members of car clubs, adding convenience to systems.

ID Verification
Government is already doing work in this area, but the role out of Gov Verify into the private sector to help support the sharing economy and help ensure trust is important. Government is looking into reducing the costs of E-CRB checks, but to truly reduce friction these checks need to be free and the more they are utilised, the bigger the impact of having a Criminal Record will be and the bigger the disincentive to engage in criminal behaviour will be. Personally, I would like to see everyone who benefits from public services have feedback ratings that would determine access to services. For example, negative ratings if user files tax return late, gets caught speeding, missed dentist/doctor’s appointment etc.

Government support for technology that verifies behaviour, particularly technology to provide comfort to the insurance industry that could otherwise inhibit the growth of the sharing economy. For example, providing a set of standards for dashcams for cars, providing insurers, warrantors, drivers and owners with reassurance the vehicles are not being mistreated. In a car sharing world the old adage that “the fastest car in the world is a hire car”, is not sustainable!

High Occupancy lanes
This is already a recommendation, but technology is now at a point where the friction involved with carrying additional passengers is gone and to better compete with rail and reduce congestion (in the medium term), knowing you can get from A2B much faster by taking someone with you will make the case for sharing far more compelling.

These simple low cost steps would be able to transform the transport network in the UK, reduce congestion, improve the environment and help to create a more cohesive society, none of which will be a result of HS2.

Richard Barber is Head of Business Development for MoneySavingExpert.com and has spent 20 years working in online and has always been interested in nascent technologies that can help increase efficiencies in systems.  Richard’s belief in the sharing economy is backed up by his personal experiences, having sold his car in 2015, he now uses a combination of easycarclub, Uber and Zipcar to save £1,000s on his travel.