Whilst Australia has historically been slow to take up carpooling, the concept appears to be re-entering the green debate, possibly in light of rising petrol prices, traffic congestion, and the obvious environmental and health effects due to carbon emissions and degradation of air quality.
“People are starting to face up to reality – this culture of sole occupant vehicle is going to have to change one way or the other,” Peter Harper, founder of sydneycarpools.com said.
As a result, the SRC Environment Collective, in collaboration with a local start-up company, is seeking to create a demand for such a service at UNSW. The student-run collective has dedicated itself to “developing the technology to connect people who are making trips alone and spending their hard-earned money on petrol with those who need a ride to uni”.
Environment Officer Luke Marshall told Tharunka that whilst there is a pre-existing carpooling scheme which was an ambitious attempt with the best of intentions, it was not known amongst the student populace, with just a few hundred participants.
UNSW Sustainability Director Aaron Magner told that transport and accessibility are among UNSW’s most pressing sustainability challenges. “That is why we support carpooling as one of a range of initiatives to reduce the number of people travelling to the Kensington campus in a motor car with just one occupant,” he said.
According to Marshall it was also predominantly oriented towards UNSW staff, and didn’t incorporate social media, an aspect he believes to be essential for large-scale adoption, whilst also making it more accessible and attractive to students.
“Our system will solve these problems by offering full Facebook integration, a beautiful Google maps-based interface and incentives for student uptake.”
Despite the positive aspects of the scheme, there has been concern by some that carpooling could potentially place students in unsafe situations by being placed in a car with strangers.
Student Grace Fleming told Tharunka it wouldn’t prevent her from participating in the program. “If people have reservations, I’m sure they can just meet up beforehand and reject anyone they don’t feel completely comfortable with, but there’s a level of accountability being a fellow student if something happens anyway.”
Whilst no students surveyed by Tharunka were aware of the existing arrangement, all were enthusiastic about the concept. “I live an hour-and-a-half away, so driving in can get really tedious, (but) everything about the concept sounds great” science student Zhen Song said.
With Australia faring as the world’s highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the developed world, and each car emitting over 4 tonnes of CO2 per year, carpooling has also been endorsed by the City of Sydney Council as a method of reducing the anthropogenic climate change. The Sydney plan has been so successful that it has reduced the number of cars on the road by 800, with over 9000 residents and businesses in the City registered as members.
According to a statistics from the Department of Environment and Heritage’s Daily Air Quality Index (AQI), this year Sydney has already experienced a total of 20 days of ‘poor’ air quality, with a peak of 785 (a rating of 200+ is considered ‘hazardous). These figures are alarming considering they have more than 4 times 2007/2008 numbers for the whole year. The National Transport Commission’s 2011 report also found that Australian cars are emitting almost 50% more than those in Europe.
Aside from working to help mitigate carbon emissions, the Environment Collective also believe the UNSW counterpart will allow for the development of the UNSW community, being exclusively for students and staff.
Of the 14 universities that exist in NSW and the ACT, all have some carpooling system on at least some of their campuses. The University of Macquarie has also developed a program that allows prioritised parking permits for cars taking three or more students or staff to campus. Upon learning this, the environment collective said that they’d also be interested in looking to negotiate a similar scheme with UNSW.
Magner was enthusiastic about the idea. “UNSW Sustainability would love to see a Carpool Parking Permit scheme similar to Macquarie University on the Kensington campus. Like many sustainability initiatives, to win implementation approval will require some evidence of a groundswell of support among UNSW students and staff. If the support is there, this will help speed up implementation of this and other complementary sustainable transport initiatives” he said.
Marshall also told Tharunka that aside from the obvious environmental benefits, participants will also be afforded an opportunity to extend their social circles.
“The system will allow students who live in the same area to connect and make friends by sharing car rides. It will provide social interaction during a time when commuters would otherwise have experienced isolation.”
Studies have shown that in other similar schemes that have been implemented have there has also been significant benefits in terms of building friendships and fostering communities. “We hope that this will also be the case at UNSW,” Marshall added.
The scheme will be tentatively implemented at UNSW later this semester.