Driving forces behind car sharing: Paul Gosling looks at a growing practice backed by the AA which can save money while helping the environment

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THE AUTOMOBILE Association this week recommended drivers to share car journeys to beat the rail strikes and overcome the heavy pollution stifling our cities.

'If you put three people in a car it will reduce jams by almost a third,' argued an AA spokesman. 'Car sharing saves money on petrol and saves emissions in the environment.'

Britain's largest free car-sharing scheme is LeicesterShare, which has 286 members living or working in Leicestershire. It is run by Environ, a charity financed by the European Commission and local authorities, which was given a grant by the Government to establish the service.

'The need for car sharing is greater now than ever before, particularly in view of the extra road journeys being made during the rail strikes,' says Kerry Melling, LeicesterShare's project officer,

A survey of commuter journeys conducted by Environ found that five times more people went to work as car drivers than as car passengers. Travel costs, congestion and pollution would be reduced if people undertaking similar journeys travelled together.

Almost half the participants in LeicesterShare take turns in driving to work. Some, like Tony Breton, who works at Environ, are always given a lift. He is collected by a colleague who would pass his house anyway. 'I pay her a couple of quid a week,' says Mr Breton.

Three or four times a year Mr Breton drives his colleague to Derbyshire when they co-ordinate visits to parents. 'We don't split the petrol costs in half, as I go further,' explains Mr Breton. 'My car is cheaper as it uses diesel and I would say environmentally better, though others disagree with me. She pays me pounds 3 for the journey.'

The Inland Revenue advises motorists that provided they do not make a profit from sharing there is no need to declare income.

LeicesterShare uses a computer to match participants, taking into account the journey origin and destination. People can opt to travel with a person of the same gender, a smoker or non-smoker. The organisers say there have been no problems of harassment or assault and the logging of verified personal details makes such incidents very unlikely.

A GreenDrive Club will be launched by Environ this autumn, sponsored by Shell and the Government. This will promote energy-efficient car use and advise members which cars are the best buys. Members will be entitled to discounts on advanced motoring lessons provided by the Driving School of Leeds, which will help them to cut fuel bills and obtain cheaper insurance. GreenDrive will be based in Leicestershire but is planned to expand nationally.

Freewheelers and Driveshare are commercial organisations that match drivers and passengers. There are other local schemes similar to LeicesterShare but no national register yet, though the Environmental Transport Association intends to establish one.

LeicesterShare: 0533 856675. Freewheelers: 091 222 0094. Driveshare: 0272 351435

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