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Plunge into the car pool with an easy conscience

MINISTERS are ploughing hundreds of thousands of pounds into new publications and advice for employers and drivers designed to encourage car sharing – despite research suggesting their efforts are not working.

Following a commitment from the Government at the end of 2002, the Department for Transport commissioned research into best practice in setting up formal car sharing and car club schemes.

Tony McNulty, Labour MP for Harrow East, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, told MPs in the Houses of Parliament recently: 'From the research, the Government intends to provide new guidance for local authorities, schools and employers on the effective implementation of car share schemes.'

The research and guidance is expected to be completed in October. Car sharing was featured as part of the Government's Are You Doing Your Bit? campaign several years ago and among financial support was a £150,000 grant for the Edinburgh City Car Club. Under the scheme, a number of cars were provided in dedicated parking bays for residents who had signed up to the scheme for a small annual fee.

High-tech systems meant they could simply phone a call centre that would remotely programme the car to recognise the hirer's personal key fob, which was used to open the door. Hirers then paid by time used and mileage, returning the car at the end of their trip for the next user.

The scheme foundered for a number of reasons, partly because of technical glitches, including car batteries being drained by all the high-tech equipment they were carrying, and vandalism.

The scheme was reborn in 2001 and there are now car clubs in other major cities, including London, many run by the Smart Moves organisation (www.smartmoves.com).

McNulty said: 'Building on this, the Department for Transport has been promoting car sharing through its published guidance and initiatives on workplace travel plans and by funding bursary schemes.'

Since 1999, the Department for Transport has been supporting the Carplus car club advisory service, with hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants.

In 1999, it ploughed in £37,000, rising to £38,000 in 2000, £103,000 in 2001, £53,000 in 2002 and £120,000 last year – a total of £351,000.

Despite this, average car occupancy is falling.

Between 1997 and 2002, the average number of people in cars has dropped steadily from 1.6 to 1.58, according to the National Travel Survey.

How car clubs help in the workplace

Many employers offer a pool of cars for use on business trips.

Now, with workplace travel plans putting the focus on more sustainable travel to work, many companies are taking a new look at business travel. Companies with a car pool could set up a car club to make the cars available for private journeys out of hours.

Alternatively, an employer wanting to discourage staff from bringing in their own cars for work-related trips could join a car club to cover business journeys.

Staff could also make use of the club for private journeys.

Benefits to employers

  • Car clubs reduce the need for employees to commute by car or even to own a car
  • They reduce pressure on parking at the workplace
  • They can increase the viability of other sustainable transport initiatives
  • They can provide a new income source from the private use of existing vehicles
  • They are an added benefit for employees

    How do they work?

    Cars can be booked through a central contact for as little as an hour. They might be used as follows:

  • For work-related journeys; by employees at lunchtimes, overnight and at weekends for private use; as a 'rideshare' vehicle for the commute to work; by residents of neighbourhoods which adjoin the workplace
  • For non work-related journeys there would be a charge per mile and/or per hour

    Who runs the club?

    There are a number of different options available:

  • A company with its own fleet could make vehicles available to staff for out-of-hours use
  • A club could be set up and run by an independent car club operator; businesses in the same area could get together to make the scheme more viable
  • A company could become a corporate member of a local car club, and block-book vehicles during business hours, parking them on-site
  • A smaller company or self-employed person could register staff with a local car club; they could then use cars for business and personal use

    Utilisation issues

    The principle of a car club is to ensure the optimal use of a small number of vehicles to meet the needs of a wide group of people. They can help to reduce overall car use, but the cars need high utilisation to ensure overheads are covered. A workplace car club is ideal as business use is complemented by private use of the fleet at evenings and weekends.


    Employees with access to a car club vehicle for business use may find ride-sharing to work a more attractive option. In fact, ride-sharers could use a car club vehicle for their daily commute. Van-pooling, where a larger vehicle is used to pick up a number of employees along a route to work, could be useful in remote areas.

  • Useful information:

    Source: www.carclubs.org.uk

    Case studies

  • Edinburgh City Council is a corporate member of the newly re-launched Edinburgh Car Club. Five cars are parked on site; staff use them for business trips during office hours, using the council's own insurance. The cars are then available for use by local residents in the evenings and at weekends.

  • Oxfam headquarters: More 500 employees have been able to use pool cars when not in work use for the past 10 years. Administered by the same team who look after the vehicles, cars are booked on a first come first served basis for 52p per mile. With excellent bus and cycling networks in the city, and access to informal ridesharing arrangements through the intranet, private car drivers are in the minority at Oxfam.

  • Swansea Housing Association has set up a car club – City-Wheels – to replace their pool cars and provide a service to their tenants. The vehicles are available to staff for business and personal use, and membership of the club is open to all city centre tenants.

  • Bradford Metropolitan Council believe a car club may serve two purposes by offering a cheaper alternative to the council car fleet and encouraging city centre residency by offering the extra incentive of car club membership.

  • Manchester Airport: As part of their green travel plan, the airport, in conjunction with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, run a car club providing employees with access to reduced rate rental cars for a day or more. There is also a successful van-pooling scheme.

  • ZEDcars at BedZED – a mixed-use development in the London borough of Sutton – has some corporate members. As well as using the cars for business trips, members of staff can pay for personal use of the vehicles.

    Source: www.carclubs.org.uk

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