sustainability transport

Five good things about car clubs

City Car Club is Britain’s biggest independent car club, with cars located in 17 different cities. They’ve got more cars in London than anywhere else, with some 300 vehicles available. In second place is Brighton, which just took delivery of its 100th car. London has other operators besides City Car Club, but with a population a 30th of the size of London, you could make a case for Brighton and Hove being the car club capital of Britain.

With the advent of smartphone apps to show availability, car clubs appear to have come into their own. You know if your local one is free, and it’s a lot easier to turn up and drive than it used to be. They are more suited to some towns than others, but where they get the investment they need, they can be a genuine alternative to private car ownership.

Here are five good things about car clubs.

  1. Saving you money – Owning and maintaining a car is expensive, so if you don’t use your car often, you are likely to save money with a car club membership. Zipcar estimates that its users typically save over £3,000 a year.
  2. Saving the government money – Most local councils run a fleet of vehicles, and often that can be replaced by using car club vehicles. Councils save on parking fees and places, MOT and servicing, and on the costs of administrating the car pool. There are a host of councils that have some kind of tie-up with car clubs, but I’ll just highlight Croydon, who piloted a scheme with Zipcar and saved half a million a year.
  3. Fewer cars on the roads – when someone joins a car club and finds it works for them, they often sell their own car, or move from a two-car household to just the one. While it varies between cities, all car clubs displace private cars to one degree or another. City Car Club calculate that a quarter of their customers sell a car or defer a purchase, meaning every one of their cars means 24.5 fewer cars on the road.
  4. Lower CO2 – because car club vehicles are new and well maintained, they tend to have lower emissions in the first place. Studies suggest car club car emissions are generally a third lower than the average. Many car clubs, including E-Car in Luton, use electric cars and lower emissions further.
  5. Fewer miles traveled – just as households that fit solar panels develop a new interest in energy efficiency, membership of a car club prompts behaviour change in the way people travel. It makes them more likely to walk or cycle, or to take public transport, whether or not they actually get rid of their car. Car club members travel 57% fewer miles by car than the national average household.


  1. An immediate thought I had: why shouldn’t city- or regional councils run car-clubs themselves? They have the cars, they have the fleet management in place, they have the infrastructure…

    Experience I made: In a company I worked for we had a small fleet pof cars that also was available for common use by employees. Cars could simply be booked via outlook in the company computer network and used. That included normal passenger ehicles, vans and trucks (i.e. for relocations or transportations). All we had to pay was the used gasoline. An unpleasant side effect was that some users fell into the “wine and water” trap and left behind the cars dirty or even damaged, i.e. they did not care for and did not respect the commons. Penalties were introduced, which led to significant friction among people and later the system was abolished altogether. I suppose it is different for members of a car club who actually a) share in the costs in a more direct way and b) are – presently at least – more among the idealistic enthusiasts.

    Weakness: When living in the periphery of the big cities, the system doesn’t work. Again my own example: we live on a formar farm at the northern edge of the Ruhrgebiet, which is Europe’s largest metropolitan area and industrial hub. The next town is only five kilometers away, along a dangerous highway that is too dangerous for use with bicycles (the many crosses along the road a silent wittnesses to that danger). Public transportation to the big centers south of us is practically non-existant. It fits the picture that only five kilometers away the standard internet speed is 100mbit/s while I have to live with an unstable 2 mbit/s connection. Since we have three kids going to school in two different towns, we already need two cars to get the kids to school, which, despite using lpg, thoroughly messes up our ecological footprint, despite all my efforts of planting trees, haing a 12 kw solar PV system, 22 square meters of solar thermal and a wind turbine. We could technically use electric cars powered by self-produced power, but that I cannot afford yet. It’s the plan for the future, however.

    My brother in law, who lives in the tiny village of St. Germaine de Calberte deep in the Cévenne mountains in Southern France, has it all: a well organized public transportation system and high speed internet. I envy him!

    1. It’s a good point, and some councils do run car clubs themselves, or in partnership with a company. Some of the most successful are those where staff are able to use them for private use as well as for the business. That encourages staff to think about their commute, and their own travel and carbon footprints, and spreads the change wider.

      Yes, the car club thing really only works well in cities, and it’ll work best in the centres where owning a car is actually quite difficult (like London).

      I can see how one of the new plug-in hybrids would suit you, if you can charge it off your own power. They’re still very expensive, but the price of them is coming down all the time. In a couple of years there will be a healthier second hand market for them – or so I hope, anyway. Our plans are similar on that front.

    2. I’m surprised Stefan that cycling provision or public transport is so bad. My limited experience of Germany in Nordrhein Westphalia was that the cycling provision was brilliant. Every road hard tarmacked off road cycling on each side (even small country roads) and they were heavily used. On the car club agree with the comments. Someone who was in my homegroup used it, but it would not work for us since my wife has to have a car for work. By the way in Edinburgh you can now hire vans as well.

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