Saving the world one carpool at a time

Thursday 26 March 2020

More than half the households in Canberra own two or more cars. This makes Canberrans among the heaviest vehicle users in the country.

Both energy and material resources are consumed during the manufacturing process to create these modes of transport. However, a large fraction of the cars that we use end up as waste.

Product Service Systems (PS2) operate by sharing the ‘functionality’ of a product through ‘collaborative consumption’. A real-world example of this is car-based Mobility as a Service (MaaS) models.

Think carpooling, carsharing, and ride-sourcing products, like Uber.  

This concept optimises the product usage, but also reduces the rate of waste generation.

Chalaka Fernando is a researcher at The Australian National University (ANU) fascinated by the environmental impact of the shift from private cars to car-based MaaS models.

He strongly believes in the vast potential of MaaS as an effective solution for reducing vehicle waste.

The average Australian passenger vehicle drove 12,600 kilometres in 2018 (Australian Bureau of Statistics). To complete its average lifetime distance, the car should last more than 22 years.

However, here in Canberra our vehicles are retired much earlier: after just 9.8 years on average. These cars end up as waste and are very much underutilised.

Ride-sourcing maximises the use of the car beyond its regular ‘routine’. Carsharing and carpooling support collaborative consumption and can provide an alternative to owning a car. The combination of both optimising car life and reducing the ideals of private ownership result in drastically lower vehicle waste.

Note: PC – Private Car; CP – Carpooling; RS – Ridesourcing/hailing; pool_RS – pooled ridesourcing/hailing

Note: PC – Private Car; CP – Carpooling; RS – Ridesourcing/hailing; pool_RS – pooled ridesourcing/hailing


“Moving to car-based Mobility as a Service models can help to optimise the lifetime distance of a car, as well as reduce the need of owning one,” said Chalaka.

Although MaaS models are effective on their own, Chalaka also recognises the importance of industry efforts to reduce waste and how the two can unite.

“New cars are produced with higher energy efficiency. You can achieve automobile light-weighting effects using materials with higher ecological composition, like aluminium, copper and magnesium,” Chalaka said.

“Raw materials such as composites are also complex and challenging to recycle. An environmental assessment of the transition to MaaS would need to look at the integration of these technological changes, which is a complicated process.”

Chalaka’s research focus at the ANU is to perform a Dynamic Life Cycle Assessment (DLCA). This assesses the environmental impact of an automobile – from raw material acquisition right through until its end-of-life.

He aims to do this while also integrating temporal factors, such as the increased use of complex raw materials. A DLCA will further help to evaluate if any rebound effects could take place. For instance, if there is increased demand for MaaS due to its competitive pricing, this would reduce the effectiveness of the proposed system.

Chalaka believes his work can be used to inform decision-making and more sustainable practices. It will support tools to increase consumer knowledge and interest in the transition to MaaS. Automakers, policymakers and MaaS operators will also benefit from this research analysis.

“After completing my PhD, I would like to work as a Sustainability Practitioner serving more towards the consumer or user end,” said Chalaka.


Chalaka Fernando is a PhD candidate from the Australian National University. He works closely with the Australian Research Council Training Centre in Lightweight Automotive Structures (ATLAS) led by Associate Professor Matthew Doolan and Professor Paul Compston. The ATLAS-ANU team emphasises on the whole of life cycle assessment of vehicle with a focus on next generation lightweight multi-material structures

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