Car clubs

ALMOST 31,000 people in Scotland are estimated to be members of schemes involving the sharing of cars.

According to the shared transport charity, CoMoUK, the latest figure (from 2020) of 30,617 represents a 21.5 per cent increase on the previous year, some 505 shared cars on the streets and 5,177 privately-owned vehicles taken off them.

Car sharing clubs won’t necessarily reduce the number of car journeys on Scotland’s streets – although they might, as they potentially encourage members to think twice before booking a vehicle.

But they reduce the numbers of cars requiring to be manufactured and, from a place design perspective, they free up space – in car parks, by the roadside, and in our neighbourhoods.

You can only begin to imagine just how a housing development could look like by re-allocating its land to more recreational use or food production were it to reduce its car parking space to a minimum.

It is entirely possible for a group of neighbours to come together and – with no more than pen and paper – agree to share their cars, insodoing calculating what to charge from a variety of factors, including insurance, cleaning, servicing and repair. One of their first decisions is likely to be what cars to keep.

Instead of pen and paper, there is the option of sourcing enabling software, which includes booking and invoicing capabilities.

This is what one of the best-known community-run car clubs in the UK explored when it set itself up 12 years ago.

E-cocars, in the South Devon town of Totnes, is now on to its second software provider, the Danish company, LetsGo.

It vividly demonstrates the need for any community or neighbourhood-based club to have a champion, to ‘drive’ the agenda.

E-cocars’ manager is Jeremy Farr. He begins: “The cars are distributed across the town so that members can choose the car which is most convenient or take a longer walk for a preferred vehicle. E-cocars encourages residents to give up at least one car in the family, or for members needing a car just a few times a month.”

E-cocars markets itself as an alternative to “the costs and hassles of individual car ownership”. There is also the prospect of members having access to vehicles with a higher spec than they might otherwise be able to afford.

Its operating system is described as ‘telematic’, which is shorthand for technology smart enough to, among other things, monitor the time and distance a car has been driven, track the route travelled and to unlock and lock the vehicle’s doors.

Parking is back to where the car was picked up from. A fuelcard is kept in the car and is recognised by fuel stations (albeit the fleet is rapidly being switched to electric-powered).

To join involves an one-off fee (for an individual, £25) and, at the time of writing, the charge for a car ranges between £3.25 and £3.75 per hour or £20 and £30 per day and 18p and 22p per mile. E-cocars provides three cars, and operates to a ratio of between 12 and 15 members per car.

A much more recent example of a local person championing change in their neighbourhood is Oxford-based Emily Kerr, who decided – last year – that she wanted to share her car (here), but only with her immediate neighbours; people she could trust.

She settled on software provided by tech enabler, Hiyacar, which in Edinburgh enables a fleet operator (of 15 vehicles) and a further 15 individuals to share their combined 30 cars.

The Hiyacar offering in Edinburgh is based solely on time. Prices range depending on the make of the car; for example, a Vauxhall Corsa coming in at £3 per hour, with a requirement to return the vehicle with the same amount of fuel as before. There is no requirement to take out any monthly or annual club membership beforehand.

Hiyacar provides all the necessary booking and payment functionality, and its charge covers all the insurance, repair, etc variables that a community-run club would need to consider. And with Kerr, it is in the process of launching several more ‘closed loop car clubs’ in Oxford alone – in other words, car sharing within tight geographical locations.

Kerr, who was subject to a major feature in the main section of The Sunday Times newspaper, on December 19 last year, discovered Hiyacar following an online search. 

Her thinking was that there had to be a tech company out there seeking to do for car sharing what well-known tech platforms had done for holiday lets.

Says Kerr: “It’s incredibly easy to set up a ‘closed loop’, which was the attraction for me. I didn’t want to spend any time on the administration, and I don’t need to, because Hiyacar manages all of that for us. We have a messaging group for all the owners and the drivers but that’s the only admin I do and it doesn’t really need any managing.”

Business development lead at Hiyacar is Keith Stark, who says he is actively discussing possible closed loop car clubs elsewhere in the UK, including in Scotland and specifically in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield district.

Says Stark: “People are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of cars on our streets and alive to how much space could be released were we to somehow reduce the number of cars available.

“It makes absolute sense to me that planning applications should include car sharing, as a prerequisite. And it further makes absolute sense – given a likely shortage of electric car charging points – that car charging bays should double as car sharing bays.”

Although it is an enabler, Hiyacar’s website feels like a hire company that has placed its own vehicles across strategic locations, such as the 217 vehicles shared between Edinburgh and Glasgow and owned by Enterprise Car Club.

A hire company is clearly not a community or neighbourhood-run car club, but it can be just as effective a way of taking vehicles off the streets.

Says Dan Gursel, managing director of Enterprise Car Club: “Membership of our car club can be a great alternative to owning a private car, giving users access to a growing network of more than 1,400 on-street low emission, hybrid and electric vehicles at locations in 180 cities, towns and communities across the UK. 

“Many Enterprise Car Club vehicles are located at transport hubs, including cars parked within 500 metres of 180 railway stations.”

Monthly (£2) or annual (£20) membership – depending on one’s age and driving experience – is first required to book an Enterprise Car Club car. For an experienced driver to hire a Ford Fiesta in, say, Glasgow costs £5.40 per hour, including fuel (using a fuelcard). 

Says Richard Dilks, chief executive of CoMoUK: “The shared transport sector has been on a strong growth curve in recent years, which means more cuts to private car ownership, more low-cost access to transport options without having to own them, and people using public transport and active travel more alongside shared options. 

“This is just the end of the beginning though – the UK can go much further, and will need to if it is to meet its climate change targets.”

Mike Wilson is a member of the Place Design Scotland team

Picture credit: Place Design Scotland

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