Thinking of giving up your car? Tired of spending fortunes on repairs, insurance and tax? Living the low carbon life, but need a car for work? Wonder how you’ll get to your favourite spot on the coast without one? Gather courage and look at the alternatives... James Frost on life after car ownership.
I gave up my car in 2008 and haven’t looked back. This decision was hurried along by my rusty Peugeot’s £500 MOT bill, but I was still nervous at the time – could I really live without my own car? Even though I love cycling and walking everywhere in Norwich, would public transport really cut the mustard for those trips into the Norfolk countryside? And my work contract stated that I needed access to a car, so how was I going to get round that?
As it turned out, I couldn’t live without a car. But that’s OK – I now use the Norfolk Car Club and operate my own car share scheme. It feels a bit greener and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. Let’s take those one at a time.
Norfolk Car Club
These are the swanky Polos and Golfs (image 1 or 2?) you see parked in special parking bays around Norwich. You join the scheme as a member (at the moment it’s free to join at www.commonwheels.org.uk, if you use the promo code ‘Norwich10’) and you book the cars online whenever you want to use them. Then, you go up to the car in the street confidently brandishing your swipe card, hold it over the reader (image 3?) and watch as the car magically opens up. Then you drive away, feeling smugly 21st century. If you are anything like me, at that point you are also driving the nicest car you’re ever likely to set foot in ... the kind of car that switches itself off while waiting at traffic lights...
Anyway, you pay about £5 per hour and return the car to the bay when you are done. So to go to the coast for a few hours you might pay £20+. At first, this did seem expensive but I found I had to take a mental leap and think of the bigger picture – remembering that I wasn’t paying for MOT, tax, insurance, breakdown cover, repairs or servicing, or dealing with the hassle of any of these things, quickly put it in perspective. Some nice man even comes and cleans the cars when you aren’t using them. It’s like car hire but the cars are available 24/7, in streets all over Norwich and you can book them for as little as half an hour if you like.
Together with a group of 3 friends, I’ve also now set up a car share scheme. We all put in £100 and brought a car together – a secondhand Fiat. We set up insurance with The Green Insurance Company, with one of us as the policyholder and the other three as named drivers. We set up a Community Bank Account with Barclays Bank (this involved us saying we were a not-for-profit organisation and coming up with a simple logo on headed paper), with all payments going in and out of this account by Direct Debit. We book the car on a shared Google Calendar and with no-one having a daily need for the car, it all seems to work out so that the car is available when we need it.
We each pay £50 a quarter and then 15p per mile that we drive (with any petrol we put in taken off the mileage sum). So essentially, my fixed motoring costs are at £200 per year. With each of us paying the same, this more than covers the car’s annual payments, with a surplus accruing for any repairs. If any extra costs come up, we just split them in four, which is a lot less painful than swallowing the whole bill, as you can imagine.
It’s worth noting that if you want to share your car, but don’t have any friends/neighbours that are keen, you could offer it to the Norfolk Car Club above. They will then pay all your fixed costs, you will continue to use the car for free, but others will also be able to book the car online and open it with a swipe card. Now that is thinking out of the box!
So should we be advocating ways of continuing to drive in a post-peak-oil society? Is it climate irresponsible to be driving at all? Well, perhaps, but I’m no saint and where the fine lines of idealism and realism meet, I’d rather find solutions. I still want access to a car but I am mindful of my footprint. And hell, it’s expensive owning a car – I’d rather do it with others for that reason alone.
I am convinced that petrol prices and the rising cost of motoring are going to see more and more people sharing cars. Neighbours, friends, family members – people will be forced into thinking outside of their comfort zone and the costs will really focus people’s minds on what is a priority journey. Whilst I can see more people cycling and using public transport, car usage is not going to stop overnight. Belonging to car clubs and car share schemes, will provide a more localised, community-focused approach. Perhaps the streets will become empty of cars, apart from the few cars in community ownership, being booked online for only the very essential journeys.
Graffiti on car advertisment in Norwich; Norwich city car club car and poster