At a glance
Car clubs have been in existence in London for a few years now and are starting to crop up in other cities as well.
Various businesses use them on an ad-hoc basis, but now one local authority is taking things a step further.
Kent County Council (KCC) has a formal relationship with a car club, which sees vehicles permanently stationed at its headquarters for employees’ use.
The deal is believed to be the first of its kind.
The council has been introducing various initiatives, including cycle lockers and showers at its Maidstone County Hall, staff discounts on public transport and the introduction of pool cars.
“The pool cars were reasonably well used but one of the key problems was health and safety, insurance and maintenance,” says Graham Tanner, senior transport planner at KCC.
“We were responsible for administering the scheme which was taking up an awful lot of our time.
“We wanted a solution where an external company would take all that work away from us.”
The council spoke to Car Plus, a national charity promoting responsible car use, and put a contract out to tender towards the latter half of 2006.
The tender was won by one of the UK’s biggest car clubs, Streetcar.
There are currently two cars based at County Hall.
“We provide Streetcar with a guaranteed usage amount for the cars,” Mr Tanner says.
“Ordinarily, for the public, it costs £4.95 an hour so we said we’d guarantee Streetcar a certain amount per month and agreed a corporate rate for the insurance.”
KCC’s cars are Volkswagen Golfs, and are to be replaced every eight months.
Mr Tanner says he hopes to replace the existing vehicles with Volkswagen’s new 72mpg Polo BlueMotion.
“That would help us to raise the green credentials,” he says.
The cars are available for all KCC employees to use during the working day if they need a car for business.
KCC has a page on its intranet site which links to a page on Streecar’s site that allows them to book the car using a smartcard.
“The costs are paid up front and recharged to the various business units within KCC,” Mr Tanner said.
“Anyone with a KCC staff number is able to join under our corporate arrangement.”
Thirty miles are included for each use of the car. Thereafter, each mile costs 19 pence.
A fuel card is kept in each car and the cost of refuelling is included in the cost of hire.
The cars’ roadworthiness is checked by Streetcar staff every week.
Outside of working hours, KCC staff can join Streetcar privately and use the cars during evenings and weekends.
The scheme is also open to nearby residents, although take-up so far has been disappointing.
Mr Turner adds: “Take up has been excellent among staff. We’ve exceeded the number of people that were using the pool cars before.
“There are around 75 regular users. We haven’t been so successful to date in terms of attracting local people, probably because we need to do more promotion. It’s relatively early days.
“We’re looking to promote it to local businesses as well. Parking is an issue across Maidstone so it could be quite attractive to them. The housing around County Hall has limited parking too, so on paper it seems to be a good location to get something kicked off.
“But the scheme needs more awareness. We are working on a programme of promotion.
“It‘s good publicity. We can demonstrate that we’re working with our neighbours to try and achieve something.”
Despite the success of the scheme so far, things aren’t perfect.
“There are still some issues we need to get around,” Mr Tanner admits.
“Some employees get a travel allowance for using their own cars, which works against it a bit. We have to do more to incentivise people towards these cars. But we employ a lot of people who live locally and only use a car on an ad-hoc basis and it works well for them.”
“One of the slight issues we have to get over is with pool cars.
“Employees are only charging expenses for when they are actually driving, whereas for Streetcar the charges are based on time, so for a short journey to a long meeting costs per hour.”
Streetcar’s commercial director Andrew Edgar says the arrangement with KCC could herald similar deals for firms isolated from the current commercial Streetcar network.
“As the concept becomes more popular we can add cars in the Maidstone area and build the users in the evenings and at weekends,” he says.
“By agreeing to use the cars during the day, the council is helping to bring the more traditional service that we offer to the local area.”
Mr Edgar says he sees Streetcar as part of a wider transport mix for organisations, not as a sole solution.
But nevertheless, he foresees wider applications for car clubs, particularly if a national framework can be established.
Such a move would allow cars to be used for one-way journeys.