World Streets Annual New Mobility Country Reviews: A 2010 update on carsharing (Car Clubs) in the UK

Carsharing has been a slow starter in the UK, lagging considerably behind the leaders. However in the last half dozen years the operators have gained considerable momentum and are now entering into the mainstream of practical transport innovation and day to day practice. Carsharing is really hitting the road in Britain in 2010.

One has to ask why the great delay? Might it be because the British are more devoted to their own cars than the rest of the OECD nations? One has to doubt it. Might it have to do with the ambiguity of words. The British call what the rest of the world knows as carsharing by their very own phrase: Car Clubs. (Carsharing being their terms of choice for ridesharing or carpooling).

Whatever might be the case, carsharing by whatever name is coming along quite nicely throughout Britain today, as you will see here in the report from the non-profit umbrella group

Summary of the UK Car Club Industry
1. History

The pay-as-you-go car club concept was first introduced to the UK in 1999 inspired by German and Swiss “carsharing” schemes that started in the early 1990s. UK government support was approved in 1997 for a flagship car club project in Edinburgh, which was jointly funded by the then Scottish Executive and the Edinburgh City Council. It particularly benefited from “know how” from Bremen and was launched in 1999. Car clubs have steadily gained recognition as they have demonstrated that they provide a viable. cost-effective and sustainable alternative to car ownership by local authorities, property developers, employers and the general public.

Growth in recent years has been fast but it has been mainly concentrated in London (see data in Section 2). This is a result of two factors – the “attractiveness” of a large concentration of potential residential and business users in the London market. Secondly, the combination of commitment and investment from the public sector to support its transport, planning and environmental agendas, has in turn stimulated private funding for a business model that requires time to achieve critical mass, high utilisation and therefore profitability.

There are a number of locations in England outside London where the partnership between local authorities and operators has delivered successful schemes. Using the lessons learned from these, in Section 5 we have identified barriers and opportunities to expand the sector. These local schemes have emerged in different ways, with some benefiting from external funding to support the cost of new infrastructure and local marketing.

In some other locations where the market conditions are favourable, progress has been slow. In the absence of a supportive environment it has required strong local champions to promote the establishment of the right conditions for a car club scheme over a number of years. In cities such as Birmingham and Nottingham an effective scheme is still to be launched despite significant local interest.

There is increasing evidence of the environmental benefits of car clubs. These benefits are extended into the long term as members opt for access over ownership – and as a result have financial and health incentives to embrace (other) sustainable travel habits. The data on behaviour change alone shows that car clubs make significant impact on emissions. The car club fleet emits on average 63% of the emissions of cleaner the privately owned vehicles it replaces.

Compared to the ‘average’ person, car club members make more trips by public transport and walking or cycling, and considerably fewer trips involving a car, lift, taxi or motorbike, (16-23% of their journeys, as compared to 66%). TRL 2009

Combining the effect of fewer miles driven in a more efficient car creates savings of between 0.7 and 1.04 tonnes CO2 per member per year in the UK. These saved emissions are equivalent to a return flight to Barcelona. Carplus 2009

Car club operators have already begun to embrace use of ultra low carbon vehicles (see details in section 4) and the potential for a partially electrified car club network in the medium to long term is evident. Currently, however there are practical restrictions regarding the extent to which EVs can be used as a mainstream fleet vehicle for shared use. There is also consumer resistance to the actual vehicles, which we accept will be reduced considerably as the manufacturers take up a larger market share. This is partly due to the investment required to lease or purchase the vehicle and partly due to the recharging time between bookings that applies to electric vehicles used for short bookings. We would expect that fast charging technology will make these problems less significant in the medium term. There are some trials that operators are undertaking in this area but so far the emphasis has been on hybrid vehicles.

At a recent Low CVP conference, a spokesperson for the SMMT acknowledged that in future, more vehicles (and batteries) will be part of a service provided to the customer rather than a purchase or leasing arrangement, and that this may lead to greater synergy with the way car clubs operate. In the future, it will not be unusual for the consumer to access flexible motorised travel through shared vehicles which embrace the best technology.

2. Statistics for Car Clubs in the UK

Table of locations and numbers

3. Best Practice Examples
Examples of best practice from local authorities can inform future initiatives. Inevitably the early adopters have to an extent been venturing into unknown areas. Identifying the lessons of unsuccessful and less successful schemes is also an important element in assisting local authority partners and operators in planning successful schemes.

3.1 Local Authority Involvement

• London Borough of Islington has provided useful examples in raising public awareness and in funding through S.106. By promoting car clubs in the Parking Permit Renewal Notices, the borough has been able to target people when they are considering the cost of their own vehicle. Islington is also testing the creation of Low Car Neighbourhoods, which involves landscaping streets with amenity space in exchange for residents agreeing to join the car club.

• Leeds City Council has provided useful examples of corporate use along with the city’s universities. Leeds contributes to the expansion of the scheme by making significant day time use of the club’s cars for business use. Leeds carried out research to back up the move from use of the “grey fleet” to support inter-department promotion.

• London Borough of Camden is running trials of electric car club vehicles. It has been innovative in the way it has supported the growth of the car club through the use of parking standards in new developments.

• Westminster City Council launched on a large scale for maximum impact using a new model of operation where the car club is a Council badged service, managed internally but the service provider is Zipcar. Westminster has also set up an EV pod dedicated to the car club for use by an all electric Citroen C1 and a hybrid Prius.

• Newcastle City Council selected a local community interest company, Option C through a recent tendering process and the council is exploring a number of new initiatives with the operator. Their ability to develop the requirements in the tender specification was facilitated by having an operator trialling a scheme in the city prior to the tender and Option C was already established in nearby Durham.

• Kirklees Council: Despite early investigation of the potential for car club in Huddersfield it required a political champion to overcome the barriers to reducing the grey fleet – mainly in requiring changes to the employee user allowances. Over 5 years after early discussions, the scheme has finally been launched initially with 5 cars and is set to develop in the town centre.

3.2 Operators’ Initiatives

Marketing: Streetcar has initiated the car club scrappage promotion offering members £200 worth of drive time in exchange for giving up their own car. Zipcar has launched the “Low Car Diet” promotion which they had previously used in the USA.

Vehicle choice: A number of operators now offer vans to complement their fleets of small hatchbacks, estate cars and people movers.

One way trips: Streetcar are now trialling one way trips where, for an additional cost of £25 per trip, the vehicle can be left anywhere within the M25 to be collected by Streetcar staff.

Communications: Zipcar has improved their service using innovative texting technology.

Community partnerships. Commonwheels has fostered strong community partnerships within the areas they work, which has brought marketing skills and financial contributions to the scheme.

Members vehicles: Commonwheels has designed a scheme to include members’ own cars in the fleets in exchange for free drive time.

3.3 Rural Community Car Clubs

A rural car club development programme was operated by Carplus with funding from the Countryside Agency in the period 2002-05. Working with a number of partners, pilot schemes were established in Yorkshire and the South West regions in a variety of rural areas.

Several current operators such as Stroud Valley Car Club, Moorcar in South Devon and Hour Car in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire have survived from this programme with limited funding resources and are made viable as a result of the commitment of members, dedication of staff and volunteers, and the adoption of innovative low cost models.

This sector, which also operates schemes in some smaller urban areas (e.g. Oxford, Exeter) is largely “not-for-profit” and is an important element of the car club sector with a different business model and generally lower charges.

The more established of these car clubs are increasingly working together to strengthen their status. Carplus has recently facilitated a new interoperability scheme between these clubs.

4. Car Clubs and Low Carbon Vehicle Technology

Car club fleets have consistently moved towards lower emissions vehicles, mainly using small and medium sized petrol and diesel vehicles. The consumer is increasingly willing to accept cars with smaller engines. For the operator, the leasing charges are now more favourable. Finally as the commercial operators are replacing cars about every two years, the fleet gets cleaner every year.

The fleets have a significant presence of the lower emissions version of popular cars including the VW Polo and Golf, Vauxhall Corsa and Astra, Ford Fiesta, Citroen C1 and C3 and Minis. Larger engine vehicles are charged at a higher rate and are usually booked for specific purposes where greater capacity or longer journeys make them more appropriate. For a minority of car club members the brand and type of car is still important and a small part of the fleet reflects that (e.g. Zipcar’s small BMWs). For a significant number of members in cities such as Bristol and Brighton & Hove there has always been a limited choice in each cluster of cars to allow for families and larger groups to make their chosen journey in a suitable medium sized vehicle.

Commercial car club operators are already embracing ultra low carbon vehicles and in some cases have been trialing vehicles with LPG and hybrids for some time (more details below).

A number of the operators have (or have operated) hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic in London and other cities. Early trials with LPG have now been discontinued. Locally sourced recycled bio-diesel has been central to the fleet planning for some community car clubs, notably Hour Car in Hebden Bridge. Limited experience has been gained in operating EVs mainly due to factors outlined above, but several new initiatives are in the planning stage or due to be launched shortly.

4.1 London

The London Borough of Camden is working with Connect by Hertz to trial a pure electric car club vehicle. Westminster City Council has supported Zipcar to put 20 hybrids and one pure electric Citroen C1 in the fleet.

4.2 York

WhizzGo has had a Toyota Prius at the Railway Station in York for two years.

4.3 Bath

City Car Club, working with Bath and NE Somerset Council, is committed to introducing and operating six hybrid cars in 2010 as part of the EU Civitas programme

4.4 Newcastle

Newcastle City Council has announced plans to set aside a recharging point for the car club run by Option C and plan to expand this.

4.5 Oxford and Hebden Bridge

Cars in both locations have been running cars on recycled waste vegetable oil for some time.

5. Barriers and potential government interventions to achieve significant growth in car clubs.

5.1 Funding

In establishing car clubs in new locations the most fundamental barrier is a lack of investment for the initial set up and the delivery of a growing network of on-street bays. For example, funding is required to cover the cost of Traffic Regulation Orders to convert parking bays as well as the council officer time to manage the process. Staff time (either council employed or external body like Carplus) is also critical for the development process.

It is important to ensure all council departments are involved (transport, planning, parking, staff transport and human resources) and potential partners in an area are encouraged to buy into the project. This is particularly important in a smaller city or town where the viability of scheme in its initial development is only possible if an employer is willing to become a committed user from the start (see example of Kirklees Council – Huddersfield scheme).

Many of the more successful city-based car clubs have only been launched where the initial funding has been found from sources such as EU funding – Civitas and LTP (Bristol), S.106 (York), Air quality (Sheffield) and EU funding – Target, (Leeds).
In establishing stronger more successful schemes in cities and towns where a start has been made and a partnership exists between local authority and operators we commend the arrangements developed by Transport for London for funding expansion in London boroughs.

Funds for borough schemes in London are subject to annual bids to Transport for London, which is willing to support well prepared proposals for converting street space to dedicated parking bays, signage and promotion. It has also successfully established a way of funding initiatives that will test innovation in a limited scheme to establish its potential viability across the region. This has significantly accelerated growth in membership and operator investment, particularly in the more challenging market conditions of some of the outer boroughs.

5.2 Funding for innovation

Car clubs are a catalyst to changing travel behaviour and a means of securing long term commitment and enhancement to other initiatives. Local authorities that have embraced the car club as an integral part of their transport strategy (e.g. Bristol, Leeds, Brighton & Hove, Sheffield and Edinburgh) have in recent years been able to integrate car club design into new housing, new residents parking zones (CPZs), new public transport infrastructure (e.g. Edinburgh tram network), but many of these initiatives have required intervention at an early stage of planning.

There is now an opportunity to ensure car clubs are included in the planning of two important initiatives:

o Expansion of EV charging points

o Introduction of interoperable smart card technology for use with different public transport modes

As part of expanding the network of EV charging points, there is an opportunity to develop the infrastructure for car clubs, particularly for shared use of plug-in hybrids, as we propose below.

An integrated approach is important to those developing sustainable transport initiatives in the public and private sectors. The wider use of smart card technology for public transport – and including car clubs – could transform the perception of the sector as part of the wider public transport offer. This has effectively been achieved in several mainland European cities, such as Bremen and Hanover.

In addition public transport interchange design and the development of shared cycling schemes would all contribute significantly to the promotion of car clubs to a mainstream audience – and thus increase viable operation beyond the “core cities”.

5.3 Supportive policy

There is a lack of a supportive policy framework at a national level which leads to a similar situation at a local and regional level. It can lead to car clubs not receiving the degree of policy prioritisation that cross-cutting initiatives require to be successful. It also prevents officer time and funding being allocated to this relatively low cost initiative.

A policy statement is required supporting car club development. It is important for many reasons:

o To establish the positive contribution to transport, land use planning and environmental policies that car clubs make locally

o For councillors to support the parking bay set up process (especially when public objections are made)

o To encourage council business use of the cars to support initial day-time usage of car clubs located in city and town centres.

o Releasing funding and officer time

o Ensuring support in the planning development control teams for car clubs in new developments

o Ensuring support in the parking team for the set up and management of bays

5.4 Guidance

Car club development is a complex process which is hindered by a lack of expertise and links to best practise. The limited resources of Carplus currently restricts the availability of support to local authorities and other stakeholders which risks effective delivery.

5.5 Awareness
A high level of awareness amongst potential users is required to ensure a take up of services. Although the operators are mainly responsible for marketing, there is a need to integrate car clubs into government promotions and to support a co-ordinated national voice on the concept of car clubs through the media and the internet.

# # #

Carplus is the national charity promoting responsible car use. As an impartial body it works with local authorities, developers, employers and community groups to support the development of an integrated national network of car clubs and car sharing schemes to complement other sustainable transport solutions.

Antonia Roberts is Director of Carplus. She has played an integral role in the development of the charity since its inception in 2000. Antonia takes a lead in the dissemination of best practise of car clubs and car sharing within the organisation. Currently this involves leading programmes of work for the DfT and TfL whilst managing research work for local authorities across the UK. Antonia set up the Car Club Accreditation Scheme which encompasses a comprehensive data collection and survey system for the industry. She has also directed: the production of online guidance, regular knowledge sharing seminars for officers, a public facing website with comprehensive bay data and the creation of a set of generic branded marketing materials.

# # #

Want to know more on carsharing/car clubs in the UK

No problem. Get comfortable, pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a bit of time to investigate . . .

1. Click this search engine to interrogate our extensive international New Mobility Knowledgebase ( for all references relating to car clubs and the UK.


2. For more search options, click here to


And if you find any errors or omissions, please be sure to let us know via:

As you will quickly see this is an existing, fast-developing and thoroughly practical transportation innovation that is ready to go. It is a key component of the path to sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. (It is also cool, economical and a good way to meet nice people.)

Try it if you are not already on board. You’ll see.

The Editor

eb-about the editor - 18oct13

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