Changing gear Car clubs on the road to success?

It’s been described as a money-saving alternative to car ownership for occasional use, whilst also helping to cut down on the country’s carbon footprint.

Car clubs are enjoying a boom in popularity.

As a direct alternative to buying your own car or dealing with the inexorable rises in the price of public transport, they make most sense in urban areas, and it’s no surprise that 83% of car club members are in London.

The concept is easy. You join the club, then when you want to use a car you book it online, go to where the car is parked, a transponder in your membership card unlocks it and away you go without the expense and hassle of owning and running one.

But away from London and the other English conurbations, there has been growing interest in Scotland’s cities. Between 2011 and 2013 there was a 23% increase in usemore than twice the 9% increase in membership among clubs south of the border, excluding London.

Dundee, Aberdeen, Dumfries, and Haddington are some of the most recent car clubs to have been establishedEdinburgh and Glasgow have had theirs for a bit longerwhilst St Andrews, in conjunction with the university, recently saw the launch of an electric car club.

The growth of car clubs in Scotland is supported through the Developing Car Clubs in Scotland (DCCS) programme and funded by Transport Scotland as part of the Scottish Government’s support for energy efficiency and carbon reduction in Scottish transport.

The network has been welcomed by the Scottish Government as it pursues its ambitious agenda for tackling climate change.

And yesterday, Dundee’s Co-wheels car club was given a boost when a fleet of 14 cars, half of which are fully electric, were unveiled outside Abertay University. With the new academic year getting under way, it’s believed that students on a tight budget could have a particular interest in the scheme.

Swapping the red carpet for the green transport initiative was Dundee-born actor Sam Robertson who played Adam Barlow in Coronation Street. He is currently starring in Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut movie The Legend of Barney Thompson alongside Emma Thomson and Ray Winstone and took one of the hybrid cars for a quick spin.

Co-wheels also outlined a strategic relationship with National Entitlement Card (NEC), in conjunction with Young Scot, through which they are offering free membership of the Co-wheels car sharing scheme to all 1.7million NEC card holders across Scotland.

A similar service launched in Glasgow last week.

Sam said: “It’s a pretty unique concept, but one that really works for people who dot around from city to city and perhaps need a car, but not all the time. My work can often take me around the country and sometimes I need a car, sometimes I don’t. Co-wheels offers the perfect solution for getting about, or even for getting away from it all, in a very cost effective way.”

Another well-kent face from Dundee, and himself no stranger to electric cars, Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios, the developers of Minecraft for the Microsoft Xbox console, also tested the service.

He also announced a relationship with Entrepreneurial Scotland to give special access to business members.

Chris said: “Services like Co-wheels are an amazing initiative for businesses and entrepreneurs. People move around so much now, our work lives can be incredibly nomadic and it’s sometimes just not practical to have a single vehicle.

“What’s new about it is that it’s a shared ownership scheme so, the more members, the more flexibility the scheme has in providing service in additional spots.”

Co-wheels is a social enterprise, and the UK’s largest independent car club operator, operating car sharing schemes across the UK.

The new Co-wheel cars will predominantly be Toyota Yaris hybrid vehicles, low emission Toyota Aygos, Renault Zoes and also a Nissan eNV200 electric van.

They will be available from dedicated parking bays at existing locations in Dundee.

Their service is also active in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dumfries and North Berwick.

Of course, car clubs are not for everyone. They are not for high mileage drivers and being a member is not as convenient as owning a car. Car clubs can be expensive for high-use, long-distance drivers. They also lack spontaneity with booking necessary. They may also not catch on in most remote areas.

But for urban populations, they look to be well down the road to success and the environmental benefits are measurable.

For example, the industry says there are 3,040 fewer privately owned cars on Scotland’s roads as a result of car club members selling, disposing of or deferring purchase of vehicles.

Shared transport also helps reduce congestion whilst air quality issues in city centres are also reduced.

Richard Falconer, director at Co-wheels said:“We are delighted to be working with Dundee City Council and Entrepreneurial Scotland to launch the car club scheme in Dundee.”

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