Automotive Blog

Will car clubs change the habits of a lifetime?

Ben April Blog

The timing and location of a meeting I attended on car clubs last month could not have been more appropriate. On that day London was more aware than usual about air quality, as Saharan dust had for several days mixed with other pollutants to create a haze more familiar to downtown Beijing than London. At the meeting, organised by Carplus, Mark Walker of Zipcar pointed out that the external economic cost of congestion in London is an estimated two billion pounds per year, the city population is forecast to grow by 14% over next decade, and “London has the worst air quality of any city in Western Europe - we are city full of smart people but we have not made smart choices.” Mark went on to say that car owners in cities know they have a wasting asset, therefore do not think about when it is not sensible to use it, whilst car club members naturally, and by default, make more rational choices, trading convenience, cost, and time. Zipcar numbers do not follow daily car use and traffic patterns, because members don’t use cars to commute; 89% of commuting trips into and within Greater London are made using public transport (London travel demand survey). London is a city with a highly effective public transport system and a high density of taxis, and the current ‘pause’ in Car2go London operations further underlines the difficulties of competing in a market with many transport choices. Mark highlighted integration with public transport ticketing and charging system as a huge opportunity to normalise car clubs, and naturally, the representatives of other car clubs endorsed this comment. But there is still a relatively low awareness of car clubs and how they work; despite millions spent on marketing, “you can’t tell the story often enough, and people you think may know about it simply don’t”. London requires a stronger vision as there is still uncertainty amongst many transport planners on the role of car clubs in improving the economic benefits delivered by better transport. Changing behaviour is difficult and requires a more joined up approach to incentives and disincentives, for example, Mark suggested exchanging parking permits for discounts on car clubs; “it is a transformation, and we have a million habits to change”. Furthermore, beyond existing car

owners, there exists another market, largely hidden. Access to affordable transport is a big issue in London; the young are less likely to even be able to drive a car – 70% of young Londoners (aged 16-24) do not have a driving licence, compared to 36% in England, and compared to 46% amongst other age groups of Londoners, (TFL study, UK travel survey 2012). London has a young population - 68% of Londoners are under 44 years old, compared to 58% for England. Basically, many Londoners simply don’t have access to a car – the percentage of households with no car ownership measured by borough ranges from 51% to 65% in twelve central London boroughs (London Travel Survey). Car club operators, including those few with the direct involvement of carmakers, see an untapped market. As Dominik Fromm, from BMW GB explained; “We see changes in behaviour. Either we see it happen or become part of it.”

 

 

Written by Ben Waller
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