Leeds residents to be given the opportunity to design alternatives to car ownership

University of Leeds Press Release

A multimillion-pound project to encourage people in Leeds to design and try an alternative to private vehicle ownership has been announced by researchers.

The groundbreaking INFUZE study (Inspiring Futures for Zero Carbon Mobility) will ask communities across the city to help design bespoke mobility solutions, which could include car clubs, responsive taxi-style bus services and shared bicycle and scooter schemes.  

The £7.8m plan is being led by the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at the University of Leeds, along with research partners The Royal College of Art and Lancaster University and is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.

It will eventually involve up to 400 households across the city and could lead to the creation of a national centre of excellence in low carbon alternatives to car ownership.

There are more than 20 other partners in the project, including Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Calderdale Council, the bike and scooter sharing scheme Beryl, Enterprise Car Club and First Bus. They and the University of Leeds have contributed a further £1.5m to the research.

Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance at ITS and director of INFUZE, said that at the heart of the project was a pressing need to radically rethink the ways in which people get around.

“This will not only tackle the carbon crisis of a system which is dependent on cars, but the related persistent challenges of congestion, air pollution, safety and inclusivity – something which a shift to electric vehicles alone does not,” he added.

“The question is not ‘can you live without a car?’ but ‘what would a world where people did not need to own their own cars look like?”

Professor Greg Marsden

Transportation is the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the UK, accounting for 23%. In the UK alone, £57bn is spent annually on just owning, insuring and maintaining cars. Research shows however that they are on the move only 4% of the day and run 960 billion empty-seat miles every year. Being locked-in to individual car ownership is also a major contributor to the cost-of-living crisis.

A third of cars do not move on any given day. The INFUZE researchers believe that if privately owned vehicles disappeared from our streets and people adopted shared vehicles, there would be more room for pedestrians, cyclists, playing and accommodating the rise in home deliveries.

The INFUZE project is based on the premise that new technologies and shared transportation could keep people mobile with far less energy and carbon than individually owned cars. This could include bus transport on demand, tailoring the sizing of the mode of transport according to need, and powered light mobility options such as scooters or two-seater electric vehicles.

“Owning our own cars has been with us for decades. Radical change to transport is not something that can be designed by engineers or entrepreneurs and just given to people. INFUZE takes a different approach, by listening to what people think and exploring what people can imagine to jointly design better futures together with technical experts.”

Professor Greg Marsden
A rack of Leeds City Bikes in the foreground with a street scene in the background with pedestrians, a bus, and three vans.
photo credit Victor De Jesus

The project will take place over the next five years, increasing in scope and scale as it progresses.

  • Year 1 – researchers will talk to communities in Leeds that are already moving away from individual car ownership to find out what works and what is difficult.
  • Year 2 – different models will be trialled in a small number of areas where residents are willing and where Leeds City Council is already planning improvements to the transport system.
  • Year 3 – there will be an increasingly ambitious set of experiments in communities where residents want to take part – this could even include subsidising car club vehicles and buying people out of their car financing.
  • Year 4 – the project will move to full area trials, which could include innovative road space reallocation experiments to respond to the changes which a shift to mobility on demand could unlock.
  • Year 5 – the research will focus on how the experiences of communities in Leeds and the science developed in INFUZE could be adopted across the UK.

The INFUZE programme grant will be an international first in its mission to tackle the transition to low carbon travel options which can be delivered at scale.

Leeds was chosen as a result of the City Council’s strategic aim to be a city where you do not need to own a car.

Dan Phillips is an Innovation Fellow at the Royal College of Art and one of the Co-investigators on the INFUZE project. He said: “The Royal College of Art is delighted to be part of the INFUZE project. We specialise in co-design, which means designing with people, not for them.

“This is a great opportunity to help us imagine and create the city’s future transport together. Mobility that works for everyone.”

Beryl CEO and co-founder, Phil Ellis, said: “Our shared transport schemes are designed to break down the barriers to active travel for people and encourage them to adopt more sustainable transport habits.

“We know, from speaking directly to our riders, that approximately a third of our journeys directly replace private vehicle journeys, which not only has a positive impact on traffic congestion and carbon emissions but also on people’s physical and mental health.

“We’re delighted to be part of this project and its collaborative approach towards the decarbonisation of urban transport.”      

Dan Gursel, Commercial Director of Enterprise Car Club, said:We are excited to be part of the INFUZE project, which will help explore alternative solutions that can provide cost-effective, low carbon mobility to communities in Leeds.

“The focus on finding more sustainable ways to travel, coupled with people looking for ways to reduce costs, prompts us to re-evaluate our behaviour and attitudes towards travel.

“This project presents an opportunity for transformation, innovation and collaboration in the transportation sector, and I am delighted that Enterprise Car Club vehicles are part of the solution.”

Members of the research team and project partners standing on a street in Leeds with a couple of Leeds City Bikes and a club car in the background.
photo credit Victor De Jesus

Case study

GP Beth Oxley, 40, gave up her personal car 10 years ago when she moved into the Low Impact Living Affordable Community (LILAC) in Leeds.

She made the decision because she wanted to live more sustainably but also because she felt there were several good public transport options available in the city.

Nowadays she cycles to and from work in Chapeltown by bicycle which she also uses to transport her two-year-old son Owen to and from nursery.

“I guess I’ve designed my life around being able to use the bike a lot more for lots of reasons – because I’m aware of the climate impact of driving a car and because active travel is good for my health and keeps me fit and it’s a good example for my son,”

Beth Oxley

But there are some places where it is not possible to get to by bike, bus or train and so Beth and her husband Max have now jointly bought a small van with a group of neighbours which allows them to go away as a family on occasional camping trips.

The vehicle insurance has to be the responsibility of one individual but there is a booking sheet and each of the neighbours has a key, and they keep an online log of mileage. 

“What that means is that it’s not parked up being unused as often. We communicate with each other; we plan ahead, and we all try to use it only for the journeys where we really need it. I think it works really well sharing the responsibility and reducing our use as much as we can,” she added.

Beth says she is excited about the INFUZE research project and the impact that it could have on the city of Leeds and beyond:

“It sounds like it’s really large-scale and if it enables communities to have a real input by saying what they need and what they would use in terms of sustainable transport solutions, then that would be great.

“And wouldn’t it be amazing if Leeds was a leading city in terms of having access to the right type of transport for the right journey.

“My vision would be that if I needed to go to the shop I could use my bike or a cargo bike with carrying capacity or if I needed to go a bit further afield I could use a car club car or a shared car, and if I needed a van – because occasionally I want to take bikes and camping gear – then we can use that and not drive it around needlessly for the other journeys where it’s not really needed.

“If Leeds can demonstrate that it can be a city where this really can be done, then that would be hugely exciting.”

Beth Oxley standing next to her bike with her toddler son in a child seat on the back