We may have reached ‘peak car’ as young people turn away from driving

Car ownership as we know it is coming to an end, conference told

Academics are predicting mass car ownership will be replaced by sharing schemes, public transport, cycling and e-scooters. File photograph: Alan Betson

Academics are predicting mass car ownership will be replaced by sharing schemes, public transport, cycling and e-scooters. File photograph: Alan Betson


It is approaching “five minutes to midnight” for the private car as young people are increasingly choosing other modes of transport, a conference on sustainable living has heard.

Dr Sarah Rock, a transport and urban design specialist with Technological University Dublin (TUD), said there were signs in the developed world that “peak car” had passed and private car ownership is on the decline.

She predicted mass car ownership “as we know it” is coming to an end to be replaced by car sharing schemes, better public transport, cycling and e-scooters.

Dr Rock told the Better Homes conference organised by the Irish Green Building Council that there has been a marked fall internationally in the numbers taking car journeys or getting driving licences.

She cited research from the UK which shows that the average number of trips taken by car between 1995 and 1999 and between 2010 and 2014 has dropped by 28 per cent for men and 24 per cent for women.

Between 1992 and 1994 almost half of all people between the ages of 17 and 20 had a driver’s licence. In 2014 that figure was 29 per cent.

Similarly 75 per cent of those between 21 and 29 had a driver’s licence in the UK between 1992 and 1994. That was down to 63 per cent in 2014.

Economic factors

Dr Rock said economic factors such as the reduction in stable jobs and disposable income, a reduction in home ownership and people starting families later were factors in the decline in car use among young people.

However, she stressed there was a change of values among young people who do not prize car ownership the way previous generations did.

She said even car manufacturers are pioneering car sharing schemes, citing BMW’s Reachnow service in Seattle and Brooklyn as an example, though that service has now been discontinued.

One car share vehicle can replace up to 15 private cars and could greatly reduce the number parked on the street. “We have the potential to completely transform our urban areas,” she told the conference.

Cities like Helsinki and Birmingham have launched all-in apps which allows commuters to use public transport, public bikes, car sharing facilities, taxi and car rental for a set fee every month.

In Helsinki, which pioneered the Whim app, you can pay a €49 subscription for unlimited monthly public transport or €499 a month which includes unlimited taxi and car sharing access.

“We have the potential to address the key reason why private car ownership is so successful and that’s the whole convenience factor,” she said.

“We need to understand the impacts. It has the potential to be a gamechanger especially for the younger cohorts. It helps address the whole costs of cars and the inefficiencies of car ownership.”

Zero-carbon homes

At the same conference, the Irish Green Building Council launched a new zero-carbon standard for new homes.

It will enable Irish home builders to offer certified zero carbon homes to buyers.

The new standards will also consider the emissions associated with the construction of a house. These account for more than half of the whole lifetime carbon emissions from new homes.

Homes can become carbon neutral in construction by greater use of timber frames. Offsetting emissions by planting more trees or generating superfluous energy for the grid from solar cells on the roof are other ways that houses can become carbon neutral in construction.

Speaking at the conference the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said Ireland can be a world leader in producing “near zero rating homes” and is one of only three countries in the world recognised by the United Nations with a centre of excellence for sustainable homes.

It is located in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and will provide education in high performance buildings to international students.