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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006, 04:27 GMT 05:27 UK
'Car-free' homes: the wheel deal?
By Nicola Pearson
BBC News 24

Traffic jam
Some things about driving don't appeal.
As concerns about the environmental impact of cars continue, a new breed of housing developments are appearing in cities across the UK.

Flats and houses are already being built without parking spaces, to deter residents from owning a vehicle.

Instead there are pool cars which can be hired out as needed - be it a for weekend away or a trip to the supermarket.

But residents are encouraged to use the vehicles only when they really have to.

The idea of car-free housing and car sharing has caught on in other countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, though some are sceptical as to whether it will ever truly take off in the UK.

Car-free promise

One estate in Edinburgh started trialling the system six years ago and now councils in other parts of the country are looking into making a certain number of new developments car-free.

Fiona Cameron, 32, is one person who has given it a try, moving into a new development in Putney south-west London.

To buy her flat she had to sell her car and promise not to buy another one for the duration of her time there.

Instead she was offered membership to a car club - meaning that when she needs to use a car, she can book out a shared vehicle which is parked right outside.

"I don't have to pay insurance, road tax or for an MOT so it's definitely cost saving," Fiona said.

"My old car got broken into twice and it was costly to get repaired.

"I can spend the money I'm saving on other things. I have loads more shoes now."

Hassle

Instead of owning her own vehicle, Fiona joined Streetcar.co.uk car club which has a fleet of Volkswagen Golfs available for hire by the hour, day, week or month.

Director Andrew Valentine says thousands of people whose cars spend more time on their driveway than on the road are opting to sell them and join up.

He claims the hassle of paying for something they're not using is being less tolerated, resulting in membership double in size every six months.

We're very encouraged how many people are making that mental jump and realising they can have a better quality of life if they're not spending their hard earned money on a car
Philip Igoe, Carplus

And by 2015 he expects 200,000 people across the UK to be members of car clubs.

But is it worth the money? Because although membership is free, drivers can expect to pay 4.95 an hour to use a car or 99 for a whole weekend and you are fined for leaving the vehicle dirty or returning it late.

The concept of joining a car club and hiring out a shared car originated in Europe and is working successfully in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Vienna.

Green charities are asking the government to back this sort of scheme, saying if just a small percentage of us gave up our cars it would make a big difference to the environment.

Encouraged

Philip Igoe from Carplus - an information centre for car clubs and car sharing said the average driver could save 2,000 each year by getting rid of their own vehicle.

"We're very encouraged how many people are making that mental jump and realising they can have a better quality of life if they're not spending their hard earned money on a car," he said.

"And most car club members, because they can see there are different choices for journeys, reduce their car use so it cuts congestion and carbon emissions".

But with many drivers considering their cars to be their pride and joy, will this really catch on?

People are going to fight tooth and nail to keep their vehicles.
Adam Rayner
Motoring journalist

Critics say car clubs don't offer the same freedom as owning your own car.

Not only do you have to pre-book a time slot to use a vehicle, but they may all be booked out if you try to hire one at the last minute.

The cars are good value if you use them for short periods - but aren't particularly cheap if you use them for days or weeks on end.

Motoring journalist Adam Rayner says he doesn't think many drivers will be dashing to sign up.

"What happens when everyone wants to use the cars at the same time?" he said.

"People are going to fight tooth and nail to keep their vehicles.

"It's about having your own space, your own music, the temperature you want to drive at and choosing a car to suit your personality - whether you're a hairdresser who wants a pink jeep with furry dice, or a turbo nutter with a huge stereo system in the back."

A report on this issue can been seen during Weekend Breakfast on BBC News 24 today, Saturday July 22.

BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See how one pay-as-you-go car club works



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