An electric Nissan Leaf provided by e-car club. Photo: e-car club.
Travelling light - car clubs and lift shares
16th December 2013
In the third of her series on Activism for Busy People, Ruth Stokes looks at how we can use 'car clubs' and 'lift-share' networks to reduce the burdens and impacts of car ownership - but still have access to a car when we need one.
Both car clubs and lift sharing allow people to step back from total reliance on a car and start thinking about alternatives.
Concerns about our excessive reliance on cars are nothing new: there's the environmental issues, the dangers and deaths involved in overcrowded streets, and the loss of space for play and pedestrians.
Organisations such as The World Carfree Network, Sustrans and Living Streets, among others, campaign on the problems surrounding the way our roads are used, and there has also been direct collective action in the past from groups like Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass (the latter is still going strong, all over the world).
But what if you don't want to take part in protests and action like this, for whatever reason? Campaigning is important, but our own day-to-day habits are also vital. And that's where I think we should begin.
I'm no car-hater. I've had cars in the past, and I see their value. But I've come to believe it's worth giving some serious thought to how reducing the impact our cars have on the environment, and on other people. This is why I decided to include a chapter on it in The Armchair Activist's Handbook.
Some people chose to give up their cars altogether - and good luck to them! But it's unrealistic and impractical to expect everyone to do that - particularly as the extent to which you depend on a car is often influenced by location. If you live in a rural area, example, you're probably going to find it harder to give up your car, if only because there are fewer options for public transport (Cornwall, where I grew up, is a case in point).
But maybe it's not necessary to cut out cars completely to make a difference. The 'car-lite' movement asks people to reduce, rather than give up, travelling by four wheels. And there are plenty of projects and organisations out there trying to help people do just that. There are now a number of schemes where you can use a car when you need it, without having to own one.
One option is lift sharing networks such as Bla Bla Bla Car, Carpooling, Liftshare, Catch a Ride and Freewheelers. These are free to use, and drivers can cut the cost of their petrol by offering up spaces for journeys they're going on anyway. In terms of safety, there's often a vetting process and/or rating system where people can feed back on their experience.
Another option is car clubs. These fall within two broad categories: peer-to-peer clubs, which give you access to cars owned by your neighbours, and those that give you access a pool of rented vehicles at your convenience.
While this year sadly saw the closure of one of the biggest peer-to-peer car clubs, Whipcar, there are other options available. The Car Club, another peer-to-peer, recently launched in London, and there are lots of smaller community-run clubs in various locations - such as the Llani Car Club in Wales and Findhorn Park Carpool in Scotland.
There's also bigger, car sharing rentals such as Zipcar, Hertz 24/7, City Car Club, Co-Wheels and - since October - the E-Car Club, specifically for electric cars. The charity Car Plus provides a map function to help you find car clubs in your area, as well as a full list of active clubs.
The idea is to reduce your impact on the environment while also saving money: you pay for your use of the car, rather than a full year's running costs (such as tax, insurance and repairs). According to Car Plus, the average car owner produces two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and car club members who drive fewer than 6-8,000 miles per year could save up to £3,500 a year.
Costs vary depending on which scheme you sign up to, of course. City Car Club, for example, costs £60 but says exact journey price depends on the distance you're travelling. Co-Wheels has a £25 joining fee then a range of usage charges for different lengths of time. And Hertz 24/7 is free to join with a rental charge from £5 an hour or £25 a day. Some ask you to pay for petrol but others don't, so it's worth doing your research.
In terms of accessibility, they tend to be pretty straightforward to use. You can usually book the period of time you need by phone or online, then either make contact with the owner (peer-to-peer) or swipe a smart card to unlock it.
I tried out Whipcar when I needed to visit a remote countryside location in Devon. I could go as far as Exeter by train but no more, so it was a good option to pick up the car from there. It was a stress-free - even fun - experience. I met the owner, we had a chat, then I took the car, drove it and returned it. Now Whipcar is gone, I'll be looking to sign up to a similar scheme.
Both car clubs and lift sharing allow people to step back from total reliance on a car and start thinking about alternatives. And with the RAC Foundation predicting that we'll have at least 4 million more cars in the next 20 years, these are definitely options worth considering.
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