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Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 12:01 UK

Car club members on the increase

By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Michael, Whizzgo customer
Michael, car club customer, in front of his local car

There are now about 50,000 drivers using "pay-as-you-go" car sharing clubs, says the industry body, Carplus.

Club members normally pay an annual fee then a price per hour to use the vehicles which are parked close to their homes.

The four biggest clubs are in London and 14 other UK cities and are hoping to expand further.

One expert believes if rapid growth continues, drivers may struggle to get the car they want when they want it.

Big business

Streetcar, the UK's biggest club, claims to be tripling in size each year and to now have 38,000 members.

City Car Club claims to have 7,000 members and to have increased by 125% in the last year.

I'm a pay-as-you-go kind of person
Michael, car club customer
Zipcar, which launched in London in July 2007, claims it now has 5,500 members and is growing by 20% a month.

Whizzgo, established four years ago, claims to have grown 115% in the last year to almost 5,000 members.

Outside London, clubs also operate in cities such as Belfast, Edinburgh, Norwich, Brighton and Cambridge.

Why join?

Michael, a freelance photographer who lives in Hove found it hard to park both family cars outside his property.

We have seen a lot of increased interest and members since the fuel price rises and the credit crunch
Philip Igoe, Carplus
Two years ago he sold one car and joined Whizzgo.

He says at the moment few people use his local car, so he can have it more or less whenever he wishes:

"I'm a pay-as-you-go kind of person so I like the fact that I know I'll need a car for three hours and it's going to cost me 20 in total."

Most clubs charge an annual membership fee.

The club then charges customers between 3.50 and 7 an hour which includes a free daily petrol allowance of between 30 and 60 miles.

Paul McLoughlin, managing director of Zipcar
Car clubs work best when there's good public transport to support people using the car
Paul McLoughlin, managing director of Zipcar
After that, members are charged per mile.

Members who return their cars late, dirty or without enough fuel can face fines in some cases up to 50.

Insurance cover is standard but if a vehicle is damaged drivers can be liable for the first 500 of damage.

Most clubs require you to be at least nineteen years old and to have held a licence for at least a year.

Members can book cars online or by phone.

Financial driver

Philip Igoe, co-director of the car club umbrella organization Carplus says economic conditions are a big factor in the increased membership:

"We have seen a lot of increased interest and members since the fuel price rises and the credit crunch hit.

"For most people I think the driver is financial."

There will come a time when the car you have had almost total freedom to use is pre-booked.
John Lewis, of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association
The clubs are generally welcomed by local councils, which hope they will ease parking and reduce the number of car journeys.

Transport for London has provided 600,000 to London boroughs to fund the expansion of car club bays across the city.

Car clubs are spreading much more slowly outside the UK's main urban areas.

Country clubs

Paul McLoughlin, managing director of Zipcar says there are hurdles to overcome to reach less densely populated areas:

"Car clubs work best when there's good public transport to support people using the car on a pay-as-you-go basis."

The clubs are trying to keep prices low to encourage the take up of membership, but some members fear prices may have to rise in the future if they are to become sufficiently profitable in the long term.

John Lewis, managing director of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, says popularity may bring its own problems:

"There will come a time when the car you have had almost total freedom to use is pre-booked.

"The problems start to arise when the car is utilized for 75% of its time.

"When you've booked the car and the previous owner doesn't bring it back."


BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday,
6 September 2008 at 1204 BST.



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