The Australian Greens party are pushing for every car on Australian roads to be electric by 2030. Under the proposal, the sale of diesel and petrol cars would be banned, but taxes would be lowered on electric vehicles to make them more accessible. It’s a radical proposal, but one several countries in Europe have already agreed on.

But is it the best option to reduce the environmental impact of cars? We think the Greens are missing something that would have a greater impact, work faster, and be more politically viable.

They could push to get more cars off the road completely.

A Tesla Electric Vehicle at a charing station next to a river, with a mountain in the background

Electric Vehicles: Not necessarily bad

GoGet likes Electric Vehicles. We’re good friends with the team at the Electric Vehicle Council, and we have lots of hybrid cars in our fleet. EV’s are more efficient than vehicles with internal combustion engines, and are possible to power sustainably if there’s green power in the grid. But electric vehicles have the same drawback as autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars), and as normal cars. They’re still a car, taking up the same amount of space as every other car.

If we replaced every privately owned and fleet car with EVs today (assuming it was logistically possible) there’d be just as much traffic, and just as much congestion as before. Our streets would be quieter and better for asthmatics, but getting around wouldn’t be any easier.

In fact, people might use their cars even more, as they could feel less guilty about directly burning fossil fuels (which, with the state of power generation in Australia at the moment, they’d still be doing anyway). We also wouldn’t be doing anything to reduce our consumption of the raw materials that go into building a car in the first place, which is a big chunk of the carbon footprint of a car.

Removing cars from the road: A better option

Taking cars off the road is one of the best things we can do to reduce congestion and the environmental impact of cars. Plus, we don’t need to wait until 2030 to start working. Taking a car off the road today will help today. To this argument, there are typical rebuttals: ‘Australians can’t live without their cars’, ‘Owning a car is a right’, ‘Tradies and businesses still need cars’. Some of those are more legitimate than others, but the fact is some people will still need to own cars, we don’t dispute that.

However, more Australians are living closer to the city. That means they’re closer to public transport hubs, can make better use of active transport (eg cycling and walking), and are closer to car share services like GoGet. Less people need a car to get around, and many households don’t need a second car. Car share networks, which are getting further into the suburbs every year, are making it possible for people to use a car when they need to, without having to own one (which also happens to be cheaper for the individual). Similarly, businesses are able to use car share to move away from owning their own fleet, and many small businesses don’t need to own a car at all.

Here’s another bonus. When regular drivers sell their car and move to car sharing services, they drive less. About 50% less, based on research we were involved in recently. That’s primarily driven by the behavioural change that comes from paying for each trip. While car sharing is normally cheaper than owning a car, paying per trip makes those costs more ‘real’ to people, which helps them drive smarter, combining more errands into a single trip. Research also finds direct reductions in car ownership near car share vehicles. As many as 12 cars are removed from an area by putting in a car share vehicle. The effect is strongest where there are several cars nearby, as it improves the experience for members.

The point to all this is there are real ways car ownership and car usage is being reduced today. Taking cars off the road isn’t a pipe dream that needs a decade of political debate to resolve. It’s a goal that can be progressively achieved, and those gains can start right now.

This isn’t about politics or parties. This is about making good policy that works for all Australians.