• Conor Molloy
  • 10 min read

In our latest EV-themed blog post, we outline the facts on the costs and carbon emissions to consider with owning a fossil-fuel car in Ireland and the alternate transport options available to you.

The Cost of Ireland's Cars

Automobility is the dependency on private cars as the major means of transport, what price are we paying for Irelands’ devotion to private cars?

Car ownership has risen massively in recent decades in Ireland, to the point where there are now 2.2million passenger cars on our roads, that’s 77% of the total number of licensed vehicles and 72% of the total road distance travelled.

The sum of all kilometres driven by these private cars in Ireland was 3.5 billion kilometres in 2019. That’s 11% above the celtic tiger peak in 2008 and a massive 51% higher than in the year 2000.

In Ireland we drove on average 16,400km during 2019, that’s 31% more kms than the EU average. This figure decreased significantly in 2020 due to the pandemic, but more recent figures indicate this figure is trending upwards again.

The rise in car ownership aligns with the rise of the celtic tiger, and despite a slight reduction in the years immediately after the 2008 crash, figures have surpassed that peak and stood at the equivalent of 461 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020. Given at least 20% of the population is too young to drive, this figure indicates the significance of automobility in Ireland.

Car ownership doesn’t come cheap, the average annual cost of running a family car is €10,386 according to AA Ireland's 2019 survey of motoring costs (the figure includes car tax, insurance, fuel, servicing, repairs, replacement tyres, NCT, depreciation, parking etc.)

The most recent CSO household budget survey showed that transport is the second largest expense for Irish households after housing, and on average we spend more money per week on transport than on food!

Transport is Irelands second largest emitter (after agriculture) and growing, so it is also costing us dearly in environmental impact. The pandemic had a significant effect on energy use and resulting CO2 emissions in 2020, with total energy use down substantially on previous years. None the less, private cars continue to be the transport mode with the largest energy use, their share of the transport final energy was 42% in 2020. The amount of CO2 a car emits is directly related to the amount of fuel it consumes and therefore the cost of fuel.

The CO2 emissions per Km for new cars fell by 32% on average between 2007 – 2016 (due to taxation changes and EU obligations on manufacturers to reduce fleet emissions). However, by 2019 the average CO2 emissions per Km increased by almost 5%, partly due to the increasing share of SUVs. This subsequently fell slightly for cars purchased during 2020, but drastic change is required to decarbonise our transport sector and reduce transport emissions.


The significant changes required with transport

Significant changes are required to reduce emissions and every sector must respond. The Climate Action Plan 2021 provides a detailed plan for taking action to achieve a 51% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and setting us on a path to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.

The challenge for the transport sector includes changing the behaviour and attitudes of 2.2million motorists. The Climate Action plan includes measures to reduce car journeys, through improved public and active transport networks. To achieve the targets set out in the Programme for Government for the transport sector, the 2019 figure of 12.2m tonnes CO2 equivalent needs to almost halve to 6.2m tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2030

As individuals we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by rethinking our transport needs, and how we meet these needs.  

Motorists are acutely aware of the uncontrollable price fluctuations associated with imported fossil fuels, with diesel and unleaded petrol exceeding €2/litre for the first time ever in 2022. Generating power from renewable resources to decarbonise transport means we could all enjoy cleaner air, less pollution and detach from uncontrollable costs. Alternative modes of transport such as active travel save us money and improve our health.

As individuals we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by rethinking our transport needs, and how we meet these needs. Ask yourself, is it absolutely necessary to make that journey? Is there potential to walk, cycle, work remotely, car pool or use public transport to reduce your car use? Where you live and work, what public transport services and walking/cycling paths are available to you will determine what’s practical.

According to the CSO in 2019 Almost 60% of car journeys were 15min or less. Work and shopping being the main reason for making a car journey, accounting for 23.6% and 21.3% of all journeys made. It’s hard to give up the flexibility and convenience of private car use but opting for 1-2 active transport journeys a week walking/cycling (particularly at peak time to avoid being stuck in congestion) will make an impact on your health, your pocket and motoring emissions.

Below is an example of how you could rethink your transport needs.

Journey Walk Cycle Public Transport Taxi Car-Pooling Other
Work X X     X  
Shopping       X   Delivery
Education   X X      
Leisure     X X    

There are steps we can all take to reduce our transport emissions at an individual level. If 2.2 million motorists make a change, that collectively adds up to a significant environmental impact that will benefit everyone.

Alternatives to private car ownership

If don’t want the financial burden of owning a car, and you want to help the environment, perhaps it’s worth living without a car. It is undoubtedly a lifestyle change to not have one always available in terms of convenience and flexibility but there are potentially many alternatives which combined may meet your various travel needs.

Is a 2 wheeled vehicle an option instead of a car? Incentives to purchase bikes include the Bike to Work Scheme and bike rental schemes, Dublin, Cork and Galway Bikes are available free for the first 30 minutes. Global sales of other two-wheeled vehicles like motorcycles, mopeds and scooters reached 82 million in 2021, representing the largest segment of road transport and accounted for less than 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions from road transport in the past decade.

In 2021 funding for the Public Transport Investment Programme grew to €535.2 million. This represents a 78% increase on 2020 and includes funding for the delivery of major infrastructure projects & programmes. These projects include bus, rail, park & ride and accessibility projects to entice more users out of their cars and onto public transport.

Transport for Ireland website brings together information and services to help make public transport across Ireland a little easier to use by providing a journey planner, live travel info and a taxi fare estimator. The introduction of the Leap Card (a pre-paid travel card) can save you up to 31% versus cash single fares. The Leap Card can be used on bus, train, DART, Luas and various private operators.

App based car clubs/sharing/rental companies offer short term rentals from an hour at very reasonable costs for visiting or shopping for larger items. Taxi services can be useful for journeys unsuitable for using public transport. Many grocery retailers also offer online shopping and delivery services. Decide if owning a car is an absolute necessity after weighing up all the options.

There are of course pros and cons of living without a car. Pros include cost savings, avoidance of depreciation and the environmental benefit of reducing pollution and emissions.

Giving up a car will make you think consciously of your transport needs and make you move more, either walking or cycling your way to a healthier lifestyle.

The cons of living without a car at your disposal include inconvenience, time (other modes of travel generally take longer) and exposure to the weather. Relying on service providers does impose limitations on ease with which you can travel without planning.

If you are already a car owner, leave your car parked up for a week and try out some other options available in your area. Cars on average spend 92% of the day parked.

Learn to Eco Drive

If you’re not ready to give up your car, there is still potential to reduce our motoring carbon footprint (in parallel to saving cash!) by driving smart. Drive in eco mode if your car has the option.

Savvy motorists can learn to drive any car more economically. Speed is a real guzzler, driving at 120km/hr uses 10% more fuel than 100km/hr! Aside from reducing speed, there are 5 golden rules for Eco Driving. These techniques can teach you how to get the best efficiency out of your vehicle.  You can see more on this via the SEAI Energy Academy (free training).

Do you need a NEW car?

If you are considering changing your car or buying one for the first time there are many things to consider, including price, styling, comfort and environmental impact. Consider the lifetime costs including fuel consumption and choose the most fuel-efficient option that meets your needs to minimise your motoring costs and help the environment. See SEAI's Total Cost of Ownership calculator to help you compare the cost of buying and running an ICE versus a BEV.

Instead of focusing on styling, think about how the car will be used for the length of time you intend to own it. How big does it really need to be? The bigger and heavier the car is, the more fuel you will buy over its lifetime. When you shop for a new car, look for the lightest option with the smallest engine option to meet your needs.

A car 200kg heavier than an alternative will consume an additional 1,600 litres, or €3,200 in fuel over 100,000km at current fuel prices. The more fuel your vehicle burns, the more emissions it produces. If you buy a fuel-efficient vehicle, Eco Drive it and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations, you'll save money for years to come.

For the average new car purchased, CO2 emissions per kilometre fell by 32% between 2007 and 2016. This was due to car taxation changes, and EU obligations for manufacturers to reduce fleet emissions. Newer lighter cars require smaller engines without sacrificing performance, because less power is needed to move a lighter vehicle.

On the other hand with the increasing share of SUVs on our roads, by 2019 the average CO2 emissions per kilometre had increased again by almost 5%. Subsequently, the CO2 emissions per kilometre of cars purchased during 2020 reversed.

Diesel is used for the majority of road transport including private cars and despite the reduction during the pandemic, by June 2021 diesel consumption had returned to business-as-usual levels. In September 2021 it reached the highest monthly total since SEAI records begin in 2008.

With the approaching ban on the sales of fossil fuel cars by 2035, why not follow the path of more than 64,000 Electric Vehicle owners in Ireland that are driving emission free? Despite the pandemic caused worldwide downturn in car sales of around 20% in 2020, electric car registrations increased by 41%, with around 3 million electric cars sold globally.

The numbers of EV’s sold in Ireland in the first half of 2022 exceeded the whole of 2021 and made up 21% of all cars licensed for the first time (compared to 14% in the same period in 2021), the market share of diesel cars in the same period shrank by 9%.

Experience the EV feeling by booking a test drive at your local dealership; or rent one by the hour from one of the car clubs around Ireland to see what all the fuss is about!

Or, just keep your old car and use it less and more efficiently...

Conor Molloy | MSc (energy) MCILT CEM-I CMVP

Helping fleets reduce CO₂ since 2005, Conor is a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT.ie) and current president of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE.ie) Ireland Chapter.  In 2018 Conor was invited to join the Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) expert panel based on his work as the designer and implementer of the EEOS funded ECOfleet programme, where over 100 Irish freight operators get paid for their fuel and CO₂ savings (2014-2030).  Since 2006, Conor and his team of driving instructors develop and deliver ecodriving training, helping fleets and driving schools build capacity for this key operator skill.