Car Clubs

By the mid-century, 80% of people will be urban dwellers. Brand thinks this is good for both town and country. Nature will reclaim the countryside while cities will brim with creative ingenuity, because proximity is what generates prosperity.
- Matt Ridley, The Times


A younger generation in the US — unsure about finding a job after high school or college — is also far less likely to see car ownership as a rite of passage.
- Suzanne Goldenberg, 6 January 2010


There is mounting evidence to suggest that in the developed world, we have hit "peak cars". The number of cars in Japan has been in long-term decline since the 1990s, in the US there has been a net reduction in the number of cars over the last few years.

Rising fuel taxes, the economic downturn and uncertainty over what types of vehicle technology will dominate (electric, fuel cell or hybrid) have suppressed demand but the most important long-term trend is the fact that more and more of us are living in cities.

Even if you live in a city, cars can be incredibly useful for certain types of journey. But these types of journey are not the sort you take regularly. The average car owner uses their car less than one hour day - much less if you live in a city.

City dwellers have to weigh-up these limited benefits of car ownership against not only the price, but the hassle of ownership. And it's the latter that's the bigger issue, because driving has become relatively cheaper (compared with public transport and as a proportion of average income), year after year.

Whereas cars used to represent freedom, today they represent the hassle of parking, congestion, road tax, car crime, maintenance and a host of other irritations.

So cars are useful. Car ownership is a pain.

That's why car clubs are such a smart idea. They recognise that cars are very useful for some journeys that public transport is very bad at, but that we haven't got enough space in crowded cities for lots of cars. But we don't need lots of cars, because the ones we've got are used less than 1/24th of the time that they could be.

Car clubs like Streetcar and Zip Car are a godsend to Councils, who get paid for setting up bays too. They should be falling over themselves to create new bays for them, not just as part of new developments, but in established town centres like Brockley. We recently reported a planned expansion by Streetcar in Lewisham and we hope and expect that they will get all the support they need from the Council.

However, if car clubs help to free up more pavement-side space in the area, it creates a new problem - at least for the areas around stations like St Johns, Crofton Park, Ladywell and, in particular Brockley. Because fewer local people owning cars means more local parking, which is currently unregulated, which means more places being taken by commuters, driving in to the area from elsewhere, to take advantage of Zone 2 tube fares. It also means more spaces for van-hire companies that treat the area like their private lot, parking their grotty vehicles on residential streets and paying nothing for the privilege.

Parking enforcement in the area is still appalling in Brockley, with cars parked in the middle of pavements or double-parked at busy junctions on a regular basis. Why, we don't know, because dishing out a few tickets ought to be a money spinner and a vote winner for the Council. Vehicle rental companies ought not to be given planning permission to operate from any office they choose either.

So, when Lewisham Council is negotiating with the car clubs, they should be targeting areas like Brockley Cross, Coulgate Street and Brockley Road - giving prime spots to car clubs that perform a vital public service and pay their way. If that makes life more difficult for free-riders, so much the better.

29 comments:

quick brown fox said...

Hear hear. I really hope some of the new Streetcar locations are in the heart of Brockley.

You've had several threads about Streetcar and they've attracted very few comments other than from existing members. I really hope people will look into it as an alternative to car ownership. More members means more cars means more choice i.e. a better service. I dream of the day when we have similar coverage to what they have in central and west London and I have a choice of 6 cars within a 10 minute walk.

Is there anyone out there thinking about joining?

Anonymous said...

Its strange there has been a fall in the USA,It's only about £1.50 a Gallon,not a Litre.

Brockley Nick said...

The US population is changing from rural to urban. US cities are at long-last starting to invest in public transport.

Brockley Nick said...

There are NW, NE and N postcodes in London, so it stands to reason there must be SW, SE and S postcodes.

crofton parker said...

I wish this kind of share scheme would extend to other things ... have been pining of late for a US-style tool library. When you just need a drill or crowbar for one afternoon. I'd happily pay a subscription of eg £50 a year.

Anonymous said...

http://www.hss.com/

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a spammer but it turns out the last poster was trying to help with the tools-for-hire issue!

Anonymous said...

"It also means more spaces for van-hire companies that treat the area like their private lot, parking their grotty vehicles on residential streets and paying nothing for the privilege."

"Vehicle rental companies ought not to be given planning permission to operate from any office they choose either."

Nick, I live near you, and share the pain of D&M. But I'm also pleased a local start-up seems to be doing well. And isn't there a bit of inconsistency between welcoming a car hire firm taking up parking slots and slating a van hire firm taking up parking slots? If your point is that van hire firms don't pay for bays, fair enough. But your comments seem more marked than that.

Brockley Nick said...

I think it's consistent to welcome a business that pays money in to the public purse for the privilege for parking in spaces that are negotiated and regulated and results in small cars on our streets, while on the other hand, criticising a business that pays nothing to park enormous vans in streets all around the area and often on the pavements.

Vehicle hire offices are sui generis, which means that anyone who wants to set up a business needs to apply for permission, which is judged on a case-by-case business. As far as I can tell, this did not happen.

My complaint is really with the Council, which has ignored the issue and said that they've seen no more than two of their vans parked in the area, which is obviously nonsense.

I'll praise any local entrepreneur, so long as they behave responsibly.

Brockley Nick said...

Should say, it doesn't realy effect me directly, but every time I walk through Brockley Cross or down Coulgate Street those vans make the prospect of an improved town centre seem even more distant.

crofton parker said...

Ooh, cheers Anon re tool hire. Will check it out. Still would like a tool library like in the US though. They're ace.

Anonymous said...

Nick, I'm already a member, but just wondered if you'd had anyone putting themselves forward for the free trial?

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, we have a winner. I hope that she's been contacted by them by now and we'll hopefully get article soon.

The other Brockley nick said...

Nick - I completely agree abou the D&M van hire people. They parked a van right outside my house the other day, and in the process ripped off a branch from the cherry blossom tree. Unbelievable. I have a photo of it. Do you want to get together images of their dangerous parking practices, such as blocking the view for pedestrians crossing Coulgate street, and make another submission to the council?

In addition, I'm well up for more Streetcars. I'm a member and I use it all the time. However, being a member means I don't own a car, which means there tends to be a bloody D&M van parked outside my house. Not fair!

Brockley Nick said...

@the other me, feel free to send me the pics, I may be able to use in future. And yes, that's exactly the problem. The car-free resident is rewarded with a bloody great van. It's almost worth buying a car, just to keep them at bay. I've noticed them as far afield as Manor Ave, Shardeloes, Malpas, Geoffrey, Upper Brockley Road, Coulgate Street, and Cranfield Road.

Anonymous said...

I was a member of Streetcar and used the one on Lewisham Way regularly. Then it went through a phase of never being available so I cancelled. Now I walk past the parking spot twice each day and its never there despite being advertised on the website. I know I could use others in the area but I'm not happy with the false advertising!

Tamsin said...

I don't think it is false advertising - just the victim of its own success. The cars are always out. You have to be very organised now and book way in advance rather than being able to pick one up on a whim or in an emergency.

Pete said...

Which is exactly why I bought a car rather than using the car club.

quick brown fox said...

...and it's why I'm desperately hoping that some of the 20 new bays will be in good locations in Brockley.

Anonymous said...

Horses for courses, works for some but not others. I realise I'm stating the bleeding obvious. I expect it's like airlines, planes only make money when full and in the air. A car sat by the curb is just depreciating. I wonder what they factor in? Shouldn't thing they would reveal that. We're getting (potentially) 25 more so that is a good thing surley?

Pete said...

I appreciate that a car certainly isn't a good investment but I don't mind paying for the convenience. Plus I'll keep it until it dies I think at which point it will be worthless anyway!

Anonymous said...

Well quiet, works for you. Greater availability willmake a car club work for others, I've got a car but am willing to be car free if the availability was better. Not for any lofty green ideals but for cost reasons.

muggle said...

Slippery slope that car ownership lark, Pete. Get a salary increase, and you'll think 'Ooh, I deserved that. Think I'll treat myself to a new car!'

Monkeyboy said...

Streetcar and Zip are merging (or takeover or woteva) so should increase coverage. So what's the score? with the new sites?

Anonymous said...

Well, Brockley still appears to be pretty much a dead zone so far as Streetcar is concerned.

http://www.streetcar.co.uk/default.aspx

Despite promises of dozens more bays, Streetcar tell me that Lewisham Council is dragging its feet and still has not allocated spots that it promised to allocate by the end of April.

Anyone know who in Lewisham council to contact about this?

Anonymous said...

Easier to buy a car than to rent a mungmobile.

Anonymous said...

Easier but a hell of a lot more expensive.

Mb said...

I did see a bay marked up near the shop on the hill. Is that new? I'm waiting for my car to die then will give serious consideration to not replacing it. Nothing to do with the green argument, just hardly worth it for the occasional shopping trip. Need more coverage though, bit of a desert compared to north of the river

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