There are a range of options for drivers who only need to be on the road occasionally, says James Ruppert

Michael Dewson lives in central Bristol and runs an old BMW 3-series. Now he would like to sell the car and do without it, but he would like to know the best way to access a car on an occasional basis.

He would like a car for weekends away and perhaps once a week for shopping. Is a car club or occasional car hire his best bet, and what are the best deals out there?

Is it time for a debate about private vs public transport? Yes, why not. Living in a built-up area where local amenities and shops are within walking distance and public transport links are good means that using your legs and a bus pass makes sense.

Running a car is one of the most expensive things you can do. Even though Michael's old 3 series has stopped depreciating, there are still insurance, maintenance and road tax implications. So if he can manage without, good for him.

However, I would defend anyone's right in the same circumstances to run a car. It is still legal to own one in a built-up area, and for many of us with families and older relatives it is vital to have our own transport.

There are always times, as Michael recognises on his weekly shop, when you need to be able get your stuff from door to door rather than via the bus stop. Cars are popular because they are practical and we like our own space. Sharing with someone else means give, take and possibly a contribution to their costs, which could have legal, insurance and tax implications.

THE SHARING OPTION

Car sharing is coming whether I like it or not, as the Government creates car share lanes (whereby two or more people have to be in the car to use a designated lane). There have been trials in both Leeds and Gloucestershire, and in 2008 junctions 7 and 10 on the M1 will have one.

That won't bother Michael in Bristol, but Bristol is something of a car-share scheme hot spot - go to www.freewheelers.co.uk. There have been quite a few initiatives over the past few years to encourage residents to get together on local journeys. That's why Michael should surf along to www.carsharegloucestershire.com and register, then see if anyone is driving the way he wants to go.

There are also national schemes such as www.liftshare.org and www.2carshare.com, the latter of which is supported by Bristol City Council. The schemes are free and claim to reduce congestion and pollution. Carshare says that it has 104,055 members.

When it comes to his weekly shop, Michael might as well ask his neighbours if they shop at the same place and time. They could then double up without liaising with someone who may live several miles away.

And there are local minicab services which should be able to get him home for just over a fiver.

CLUBS AND HIRING

There is, of course, the situation where Michael absolutely has to have his own set of wheels for that weekend away, or holiday - and that means hiring a car.

Hold on, though: there is a concept known as the car pool or club, by which cars are made available when needed for a fee. WhizzGo, the first commercial car club in the UK to be fully integrated into a transport network, has started operating in Leeds, using a fleet of Citroën C3s. Members book online or by phone and smartcard technology controls access and usage.

But a car pool equates to hiring a car, after all. Bristol is well served by the biggest car-hire firms, not least because the city has an airport. So it should be easy enough for Michael to contact Alamo, Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.

However, it pays to see what smaller companies offer; www.carhire3000.com reckoned that it could hire out a small car for £16 a day. Also, Enterprise Rent-a-Car ( www.enterprise.co.uk) has some spring offers, which could mean that Michael could drive away for as little as £11.99 a day.

As ever, it pays to look at the small print so that Michael knows exactly what he has to do when returning the vehicle: this usually means bringing it back with a full tank. It is also vital to know what his insurance coverage is.

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