Andrew Bibby



Andrew Bibby is a professional writer and journalist, working as an independent consultant for a number of international and national organisations, and as a regular contributor to British national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a number of books.

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Car clubs - how sharing vehicles can save you money

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in the Observer, 2005

It was a good day for Amanda Brace when she stopped owning a car. “It was very liberating. There were no more running costs, no more MOTs and no more searching high and low for parking places,” she says. “It's saved me a large amount of money and a large amount of hassle.”

Amanda, a policy worker with the rural pressure group CPRE, is not entirely dependent on public transport, however. As a member of a successful car share scheme in Brighton, she has access to a fleet of shared vehicles in the city when she needs to make car journeys – typically, she says, to pick up bulky shopping, to make occasional trips to the dump, or for journeys to the countryside or to visit friends. She books the trips she needs via the internet and gets access to the car she has booked by using a smart card. The system, she maintains, is easy to use and normally a car is available a very short distance from her home.

Brighton 's car-share arrangement began three years ago when Amanda's local community association received lottery funding for a three-vehicle car-sharing project. The scheme has now expanded to ten cars and has linked up to the national CityCarClub network, which operates a total of about 115 cars in Bristol, Edinburgh and parts of London (including Islington and Kentish Town) as well as in Brighton.

Amanda and her partner Mark support the car-share scheme for environmental reasons, but they are aware, too, of the cost advantages of the arrangement. Amanda says that she calculates that she saves several hundred pounds a year.

Superficially, car-sharing with CityCarClub doesn't appear a bargain. The standard CityCarClub tariff includes a monthly subscription of £15, a charge for each hour booked of £2.80-£3, and a further mileage charge of 18p a mile (including fuel). But Chas Ball, CityCarClub's managing director, argues that the monthly bills of £100-£150 which his members typically receive are about half of the cost they would be actually be meeting if they ran their own cars. “A lot of people don't appreciate the real cost of car usage,” he says.

Chas Ball points to the successful car-sharing schemes in many European cities as a model for Britain to follow. The secret, he says, is to have the right number of cars in the right places, so that the vehicles are not unnecessarily idle but are also not permanently overbooked. A professional booking service, and proper servicing and fleet management arrangements, also have to be in place.

CityCarNetwork has worked with a number of local authorities, including Edinburgh where the city council has disposed of its pooled cars in favour of a regular day-time booking for its staff for eight city-centre based shared cars. In another innovative move in conjunction with train operator Thameslink, the company has placed a car at Wimbledon Chase station in south London and is offering discounts to Thameslink season ticket holders.

Chas Ball's company, one of about four ventures in Britain running car-sharing schemes on a commercial basis, is currently looking for investors prepared to support the business's development. The company recently converted to a plc and has a £1m share issue open until July 22nd . The company intends the shares to be tradeable on OFEX, the market for unquoted shares in smaller companies.

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