I’ve been driving for nearly three years, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Having the ability to jump in the car at a moments notice and go where you want is a massive part of gaining your independence. So when I read about the city car club launched in November last year in Cardiff I was sceptical as to how it would work.
The car club has vehicles parked across the city centre and in central areas like Pontcanna and Cathays. You’re issued with a swipe card, and once you’ve paid the annual membership according to their website you can “book, jump in, drive away…”.
View a map showing the locations of the city car club
View Cardiff car club locations in a larger map
This is certainly true, once you’ve fiddled around trying to find the in-car computer first to enter your pin code. My first experience with the car club was on Friday afternoon, when I had to pose for some suitably cheesy photos on King Edward VII Avenue with a Ford Fiesta. Although it took me a good two minutes to get the swipe card to activate the car.
Once inside I channelled the spirit of male-kind and tried to find where to enter my pin code. After five minutes of trying to type my code into the car radio I resorted to using the instructions and found the computer in the glove compartment.
Keys in and I was away. Whizzing along North Road to Pontcanna. The cars are easy to drive, although you have to keep re-adjusting the seats and wing mirrors depending on who has been in it last (a very small person in this case!).
After the first test drive I made some bookings for the weekend. This is the bit that frustrates me, you really need to plan when you’re going to use the car – and it’s not something I could get used to. I booked in a few trips for the weekend using the online systems (you can also book on the phone 24-hours-a-day, or in the cars using the in-car computer).
Saturday morning came around and I awoke to see it was five minutes until I was due to have the car. I decided to sack off my morning swim and called the helpline to cancel the booking – and realised I’d be charged 60% of my booking fee. You only avoid the charge if you phone 5 hours or more before the booking is due to begin.
But I still had my afternoon of activities, a trip out of Cardiff to Llantwit Major for a pub lunch, a stroll around Barry Island and then a big shop at the Western Avenue Tesco on the way back. For the petrol-heads amongst you, the Ford Fiestas were pretty nippy – except as you’re not used to driving them stalling is quite common (not recommended in-front of a Cardiff Bus driver, they really don’t like it.)
Getting back from our Saturday afternoon adventure I sat down to do some James May style maths, and to my horror I realised our jaunt into the Vale had cost over £30! This car club is definitely not made for the more adventurous drivers amongst us.
So, the killer question: would I ditch my car and use the car club? No, definitely not. It’s more expensive and I’m not sure I could deal with being so organised about when and how long I’m driving for. But it does make you think about motoring in a different way and whether you really need to make the trip – especially when the cost is per mile and per hour.
However, if I was a student or someone who needed to use a car every two-to-three weeks for a big shop or a trip to Ikea – it’s definitely worth it. The system is easy to use, the cars are good and the service is slick. I can see the scheme becoming popular in Cathays and Roath, and with the parking pressures in these areas, it’s a vital part of the plan for cutting down the number of cars on these terraced streets.
Disclosure: The costs of the trial were paid for by City Car Club
Doing the sums: Comparing the cost of car club to running my own car
6 miles round trip from city centre to Pontcanna to visit unhappy resident about parking bays. £4.95 time/£1.26 mileage.
4 miles round trip from city centre, dropping a colleague at home in Cathays and swim at Maindy Pool. £4.95 time/ 84p mileage.
Had to cancel trip at short notice, incurred £2.97 60% of hourly rate.
50 mile round trip from city centre to Llantwit Major for lunch, Barry Island stroll and big shop at Western Avenue Tesco. £19.80 time/£10.50 mileage.
Total – £45.27 + £50 annual membership fee
For the same trips, in my car (a 1999, 1.3litre, slightly unreliable Ford Ka), taking annual costs and breaking down for daily costs and at a mileage rate of 14p per mile.
Total would be £21.32 for a weekend, made up of tax (£1.02), insurance (£8.25), mileage (£8.40), MOT/servicing/repairs (£2.46), Oil, parking and other running costs (£1.19).
How does the whole thing work?
The company operates across cities in the UK. It’s aimed at people who drive less than 6,000 miles a year.
You sign up for a membership, currently costing £50-a-year, and this gives you access to cars at locations across the city.
In Cardiff, these are mainly 3 or 5 door Ford Fiestas. They are parked in designated ‘car club’ bays, which are protected by Cardiff council’s parking enforcement officers. You have to take the car back to the same bay where you started from. You can book cars on the web, on the phone or using the in-car computer.
You unlock the cars by holding your membership card over a chip reader on the windscreen. You then enter a pin code into the in-card computer to activate your booking and release the keys.
You drive off and the onboard computer keeps track of your mileage and time in the car. When you stop and get out of the car, you need to remember to press ‘No’ on the computer to keep your booking active. You lock the car using the swipe card on the windscreen.
The mileage cost is currently 21p-a-mile. The hourly charge is £4.95.
Student driving: How Stuart uses the car club
Stuart Hanmer, who lives in Pontcanna, has been using the service since November last year, when his parents bought him a membership for his birthday.
The 23-year-old Phd student said: “It’s been very good to use. It’s quite easy if you’re wanting to do a big shopping trip or visit friends further out.
“I have friends in Llandaff so it’s nice to be able to drive up to see them – especially if I’m coming back late.”
Mr Hanmer said he finds the cost of the car club better than owning a car.
“It definitely works out cheaper if you’re just using it occasionally for short journeys,” he said, “but if I was using it all the time then I’m not so sure.”
Mr Hanmer said the only problem he’d experienced was when he came back from a trip and found local residents had parked in the car club spaces.
Resident complains over lack of consultation on car club spaces
A retired conservation campaigner in Pontcanna has hit out at the car club spaces in her area.
Jane Jenkins, who lives on Plasturton Avenue, is unhappy with the space on nearby Sneyd Street.
She said: “The issue for me is it came as a shock when we came back one day and found two spaces painted on our road. This road is already very busy and there’s not enough resident parking. We often use the spare spaces on our road and this doesn’t help.”
Mrs Jenkins said the markings were not in-keeping with what she described as a “beautiful Victorian street”.
“It’s a beautiful part of Cardiff,” she said, “to me it’s like graffiti putting all those white lines and logos down on the road.
“However, I think the car club could be a good idea – I just wish they’d consulted us and told us about it.”
Coun Delme Bowen, the man responsible for traffic and transport in the city, said 25 private vehicles had been taken off the roads thanks to the car club.
Cardiff council say the scheme has seen 55 people sign up since the launch in November.
Do you use the car club? What do you think about it? Will it work? Let us know in the comments below