LIFE IS short enough as it is, and then of course, you discover the fun fact that the average Australian spends up to six full days each year sitting in traffic in their personal cars. Sure, we have an emotional bond to our cars that goes far beyond a matter of mobility; they are storage facilities, dressing rooms, breakfast booths, lost and found depots… But those six days really start to add up over the years.

New research from Uber indicates that Australians are willing to embrace alternative modes of transport to the private car as part of a societal shift towards a car-light future. Surprising? Perhaps, especially given that we have one of the highest rates of private car ownership per capita in the world, with over 15 million cars on the road each year.

Thousands of people applied to take part in Uber Australia’s One Less Car trial this year, which invited 58 participants to give up their personal car for four weeks and explore other modes of transport including bikes, walking, rideshare and public transport. Why? Primarily because our entrenched culture of private car dependence clearly contradicts all good efforts to meet a target of net zero emissions across our major cities. That aside, Uber’s trial revealed a series of other positive social and behavioural shifts that occur when people start to change their mindset around mobility. Good in theory, but in practice, where does one begin? Just give up the keys and give it a shot, apparently.

“With One Less Car, we set out to explore just what it would take to disrupt Aussies’ reliance on their cars, and the results have been clear that there is appetite and opportunity for real change. The data tells a fascinating story and suggests that embracing a car-light lifestyle could deliver significant benefits to individuals, cities and our planet…,” said Dom Taylor, General Manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand.

While a ‘car-light’ lifestyle is something we might consider to be an impossible ideal that’s only feasible in cities like Amsterdam or London with infrastructure better-oriented to support different modes of mobility, Uber’s trial identifies promising early opportunities for Australia’s major cities, and practical steps that can be integrated into everyday life, as of now.

When provided with access to convenient and efficient transport alternatives, the trial group successfully reduced their car use without any apparent major dramas, or passionate renditions of How Do I Live Without You. Participants’ weekly average number of personal car trips dropped, and more interestingly, people used four different transport modes, on average, per week. Australians across a range of ages and demographics willingly adapted their lives and mindsets in exploring different ways to get around, with walking, cycling and rideshare taking the cake as the most preferred alternatives.

“It’s surprised me how easy this has been, how unstuck I’ve felt, and how many positives have come out of it,” shared one participant who gave up her car for the trial. Beyond a possible initial adjustment phase of not having a personal car for the conveniences like a place to stash your groceries and dry cleaning as you zip from work, to the gym, to home, people successfully adapted their daily routes and routines to accommodate life without it. 

In fact, many were surprised to discover how much healthier, more productive and more socially connected they felt outside the private car bubble. Cycling and rideshare increased four to five times in frequency of use, step counts and physical activity increased, and so did community satisfaction levels. The family dog, for one, had a blast, and that grinding frustration caused by the cost of fuel and idling your life away in traffic? Gone.

Maybe that’s why the perceived atmosphere in ‘car-light’ cities like Amsterdam is noticeably calm and cohesive, with the majority of folks on bikes and less willing to endure the stresses of traffic, parking, road rage and other general headaches that come with driving a car in the city. When urban design considers bike usage and connections to workplaces, services and amenities are made more convenient for people, the private car is not quite the vital magic machine it might be in other cities.

“From an urban planning perspective, the rise of Australian cities is very much intertwined with the rise of the private car. So of course people are reflexively reaching for their cars as the easiest and most convenient way to get around. But do we necessarily want to continue on this trajectory? Is it the best way forward for ourselves and for future generations?” asked Anna Paula Brito, Uber Australia’s Head of Sustainability Strategy. 

While the urban design schemes of cities like Sydney and Melbourne are oriented towards facilitating private car use, Uber Australia’s research outlines the kind of physical and societal shift that needs to occur if we’re going to seriously address our excessive rates of private car ownership. It seems that a car-light future in Australia will depend on people having good enough reasons to not to use their car. According to the trial, this means we must have access to four or more modes of transport when reconsidering how to get from A to B.  

There’s no denying that the private car has played a major role in defining our sense of personal and social identity (…just ask James Bond about his Aston Martin DB5, ask Barbie about her C1 Corvette, ask Batman about his Batmobile). It will most likely continue to have some role in our lives, and in society more generally, as means of personal freedom for the foreseeable future. But Uber’s latest research shows that  Australians are embracing the idea of reduced private car usage, enticed by the environmental, wellbeing and societal benefits that come with this major lifestyle shift. 

So, the next time you’re sitting in your car stuck in traffic, complaining about how much you hate traffic, just remember…you are traffic. And you can do something about it.

Learn more about Uber’s One Less Car trial here


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