Why it's a perfect time for car owners to join the club

By Cllr Alexis Rowell, Camden s eco champion I have spent the last two years trying to persuade one of my best friends that he doesn t really need a car in Camden. Alex uses his car about twice a month – usually to go to Brent Cross or to visit a re

By Cllr Alexis Rowell is

Camden's eco champion

I have spent the last two years trying to persuade one of my best friends that he doesn't really need a car in Camden. 'Alex' uses his car about twice a month - usually to go to Brent Cross or to visit a relative elsewhere in north London. He uses the tube or his bicycle to get to work. He gets his groceries delivered. When he leaves London he goes by train, and either takes his bike or rents a car at the other end. In my opinion, Alex has absolutely no need to own a private car.

But it has taken two years to persuade him because, like most car owners, he is convinced that he really, really needs a car. Owning a car is almost seen as a human right in 21st century Britain. Or at least a consumer right!

Two things finally persuaded Alex to give up his car. One day he found the battery flat because he hadn't used it for ages. Then a car club company installed a car club space in his street.

Car clubs are great. For anyone who doesn't use their car every day, they make financial sense. You pay a small annual fee to join and then per hour of time booked which includes a certain amount of free petrol. You book over the phone or on the internet. You have a card and a pin code that gives you access to the car and allows you to drive it.

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The car club looks after insurance, servicing, MOT, cleaning, etc. If there's no car available exactly when you want it (which there is 90 per cent of the time), or if you're in a terrible hurry, then most people would still be better off financially by using the occasional taxi.

It sounds good, but joining a car club is not an obvious step for most people. Persuading someone to give up their car and submit to the possibility that they won't be able to use a car exactly when they want is hard work. It's right up there with trying to persuade people to fly less often or to eat less meat.

And car clubs are not yet well adapted to all. I know parents who would be prepared to give up their family cars if some of the car club vehicles were big enough. I know lower income families that would give up their old bangers if car club cars were cheaper.

But it's early days. Car clubs are the future in urban environments. On average a car club car replaces 10 privately owned cars. The world's 800 million cars are not used a staggering 88 per cent of the time. They clutter up driveways, car parks and streets. Just think of the trees, the green space, the properly separated cycle lanes and the widened pavements we could put in if we got rid of a significant proportion of our parking spaces.

The UK's largest low carbon community - Bedzed in Surrey - secured its largest carbon reductions not from energy efficient walls or wood-fired combined heat and power systems, but from its car club. Not only were residents sharing cars, they were using them less.

We have 66 car club spaces on Camden's streets, rising soon to 100. But I believe we need far more. There should be at least one car club space on every street and every housing estate.

Our transport officers are worried that the market can't bear more than 100 spaces but the car club companies disagree and want to provide more spaces and will pay for their installation. Where we do need to spend money is in helping residents to understand the benefits of car clubs. Mindset marketing I call it. And we need to help the car club companies to make their offers more flexible, better value and convenient.

If you're still sceptical, another reason to use your private car less is because the cost of fuel is increasing all the time. Oil hit an all-time high of $147 per barrel last month. We have to face up to the fact that oil is running out - we are at or near the peak of global production. Yet demand continues to rise because everything - really everything - you see around you is based on cheap oil.

During the 1973 oil shock the price reached $40 per barrel (in 2007 prices), during the second oil shock in 1979 it reached $80 a barrel. Now, during the third, and almost certainly last oil shock, we've reached nearly $150 a barrel.

Goldman Sachs analysts are predicting $200 a barrel this year or next. Investment banks and hedge funds are laying one-way bets. Driving a car is only going to get more expensive. So I say help yourselves, make the first step towards low carbon alternatives - join a car club.

If you would like to see a car club space in your street, then please get in touch.