Leeds residents to design alternatives to car ownership


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 Sciences Research Council.

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, Institute for Transport Studies

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?’”

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.

A graphic illustration of a community gathered around playmat with toy cars, bikes and buses

INFUZE will encourage people in Leeds to co-design and try an alternative to private vehicle ownership

A different approach

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. 

Professor Marsden added: “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.” 

Five year plan

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.

Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council Executive Member for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure said: “I’m really excited about the INFUZE project which fits in perfectly with our transport strategy of Leeds being a city where you don’t need to own a car.

“We need to give people these multimodal choices – whether that’s travelling by bus or by bike or hiring a car. Transport is our biggest carbon emitter in Leeds and the more we can get people to use less carbon-emitting forms of transport the better, but we want to do this in a way that fits in with our lifestyle and means that people have got choices and are not restricted.”   

Mobility that works for everyone

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.”

Further information

Photo of INFUZE partners by Victor de Jesus. From left to right: Sonja Woodcock (Leeds ACTS) Storm Baines (Enterprise Mobility) Professor Greg Marsden (Director of INFUZE) Professor Charisma Choudhury (Institute for Transport Studies) Councillor Helen Hayden (Leeds City Council Executive Member for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure) Dan Bell (Beryl) Dr Chiara Calastri (institute for Transport Studies) Stephanie Burras (Ahead Partnership) 

INFUZE project partners: Lancaster University, Royal College of Art, Leeds City Council, Department for Transport, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Calderdale Council, Transport for the North, Transport for West Midlands, Ahead Partnership, Arup, Steer, Beryl, Enterprise Car Club, First Bus, Padam Mobility, Ridetandem, Mobilityways, Connected Places Catapult, Zemo Partnership, LeedsACTS! Third Sector Leeds, Climate Action Leeds, Fore Consulting.

For media enquiries, please contact Kersti Mitchell in the University of Leeds press office via k.mitchell@leeds.co.uk