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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Commuter swap: Changing bus for a car share
3 BBC News Online users ditched their cars for a week
Mon: Steve Clarke by bike
Tues: Dave Hay by train
Weds: Janet Powell's car share

Everyone wants to cut congestion on Britain's roads, but how best to go about it? Car shares have been touted as a possible answer, but do they work? In the third of our transport swaps, Janet Powell gives it a spin.

"I hate the bus," confesses Janet Powell, thinking about her daily commute to and from the office.

By public transport, the 11-mile trip from her Dartmoor home to her desk in the centre of Plymouth, takes three-quarters of an hour.

"It meanders via the hospital and a housing estate. You have to get to the bus stop early in case it's ahead of schedule. And it's not unknown for it not to turn up at all - which means you have to wait 30 minutes until the next one."

Sometimes Janet, 30, can catch a lift with her husband, if he's heading in the same direction, but it's not a regular offer.

So, spurred on by BBC News Online's challenge for commuters to try a different way into work, she has opted to try a car share.

Car sharing has been trumpeted as a possible solution to our congestion ills. The idea is simple - instead of four commuters making the same journey in separate cars, get them to team up and do the same trip together.

What does the future hold for the car?

In reality, it's more complicated, says Janet, who used a website called Liftshare to track down a willing driver.

Of the three "matches" found for her by the car-share website, only one, Jane, replied to a follow-up call.

But their morning times do not match, so Janet, a council official who works three days a week, can only use the car share for her homeward leg.

Even then, it was far from smooth. An initial misunderstanding saw Janet waiting for a lift that never came.

She also has to be rigorous about her hours, to ensure she isn't late for the lift home. And even then, Jane's work commitments can take her out of town, scuppering their car share for the day.

So will Janet stick with it? "Yes, for the meantime. When it works it's heaps better than the bus; takes almost half the time. I have to keep my bus pass, but Jane hasn't asked for petrol money. I'll buy her a bottle of wine instead."

And communication is vital, she says, to avoid long, lonely waits for a lift that has actually been cancelled.


HIGHLIGHTS AND LOW POINTS - JANET'S DIARY:

Tuesday
Today's journey is a mess - the fruits of communication breakdown. Jane said the previous week she would work late on Tuesday. I assumed this was priming me for a later timed lift, but in fact it wasn't and she'd thought I would go home myself. I go to the usual meet-spot, but to no avail. So make my way to the bus, wait 15 minutes and then remember it is the one with the extra detour. From leaving at 1700, I get home at 1830 feeling slightly forlorn. Bit of a heave-ho travelling day.

BUS v CAR SHARE: JANET'S EXPERIENCE
Commute by bus: 11 miles each way; 45 minutes average; cost 50/month
Commute by car share: 11 miles each way; 30 minutes average; cost 10/month (+ bus pass)

Wednesday
Much better. Jane got my mail of the evening before and apologised on the assumption that I was going earlier. We go like clockwork at 1615. It's great to get home early. All that energy saved. Delightful!

Thursday
E-mail Jane about 1600 as I'm not sure how the land lies. I haven't heard from her and know her work appointments take her out and about without the strictest of timetables. I will go with the flow and fall in with whatever time, just so long as I know. She calls me just as I'm packing up to go on the bus, so that's great. Another speedy journey home. I guess we will have to work out a foolproof plan for what happens if we don't contact each other.

Overall I view the car share positively and would recommend it. It is nice to make contact with someone outside of your normal circle. Savings on travel costs may not be there due to variable routines but there is the huge benefit of time saved.

Some of your comments so far:

With 10 million empty seat on our roads every day and traffic delays costing 20bn a year you would think the government would be more pro-active in promoting car share schemes. Instead they seem determined to paint the car driver as the bad guy when it in reality they would be better served trying to use the existing capacity.
Keith Laird, Nottingham

The US highways have lanes that are exclusively for use of vehicles with more than one person in them. Perhaps with road widening schemes the same can be introduced here.
David, UK

Having had to use the bus to commute to work in Plymouth from the outer suburbs I know what she's going through. If you live in a well off area of Plymouth expect a bus every 30 mins, in a council estate every five mins. This is hardly an incentive for those with cars to change. On the plus side the council used to run a reduced fare season ticket for the buses that could be used on both bus companies.
Helen, Ex-Plymouth, UK

If all car commuters just tried one of these different schemes (bike, public transport, car-share) just one day each week, then at a stroke we'd reduce rush-hour traffic by 20% on average each day, whilst lowering emissions and getting us fitter. Then, when you drive for the other four days, it will be (permanently) like your journey to work during school holidays. Someone tell me if I've missed something obvious?
Kerlmann, High Wycombe, UK

I tried car share some years ago - never again. I had to fit my working hours in with others, because they refused to change theirs. When it was my turn to drive, there were uncalled for comments about my old car, and the expectation they could play their own tapes. Car share will never work because too many people abuse the system.
Alan, London, England

I have had someone car sharing with me for the last few years, & it has worked well. We work for the same company in Coventry and mostly do the same hours. This makes it easier. But I agree with Janet, you have to comunicate with the person you are sharing with well. One benefit is that having a company car, the mileage goes on my car.
Neil Newland-Smith, Hinckley, Leicestershire

I lift share with others at work. But we still need to drive to the rendezvous in a supermarket car park. I'd like to see secure car parks adjacent to major road junctions for a nominal cost (1/day) to aid pick-ups.
Tim Coombs, Cardiff

I've tried sharing lifts with colleagues who live nearby, but they dismiss the idea for picky reasons. Is there anyone else who travels Walsall to Telford, daily, at 8am and back at 5pm? :)
David, Walsall, England

Many people value the time they spend driving to/from work as their own private time, to get their brain in gear on the way in and chill out on the way back. I will personally never car share for this reason alone.
Andyt, Hinckley, England

The reason I commute by car is because of the freedom and independence it offers. If I car shared I would be restricted to fit my plans in with other peoples.
Kevin, Edinburgh

The principle of the idea sounds great, but I am put off by the idea of dependency on a complete stranger
Gerda , Edinburgh, Scotland

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