Car-share schemes could cut pollution

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The Independent Online
A Club aimed at reducing the use and ownership of cars - the first of its kind in Britain - is to be launched by Edinburgh council by the end of this year.

To be modelled on clubs rapidly attracting members in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, its aim, according to David Begg, transport convenor of the Labour-controlled city council, is "to get people to use cars as a mode of transport rather than as a status symbol".

The club will be launched in Edinburgh's Marchmont/Sciennes area. Members will be able to hire a car at short notice and for periods of as little as one hour, from a pool of up to 24 vehicles parked in three locations in neighbourhood streets.

Mr Begg says that because members will either not run their own cars or perhaps be a one- instead of two-car family, one club car could replace up to 15 privately owned vehicles. Also, he says, because it will make members more selective in their car use, it is likely to cut their annual car mileage by half.

Mr Begg, a university lecturer in transport economics, said: "It's the one scheme I've encountered in all my years in politics that has no downside. It will reduce car mileage and demand for parking. It will give people on lower incomes the opportunity to use a car - and it's safe for the environment."

The Government likes the idea, too. The Department of Transport is to give pounds 150,000 towards setting up the scheme, and the Scottish Office a further pounds 30,000. (The city council itself has earmarked pounds 48,000.)

It also has the endorsement of the environmental lobby group Transport 2000. "The point of the scheme is that people won't bother hiring a car just to nip round the corner to buy a newspaper. It introduces a barrier to using cars thoughtlessly," said its assistant director, Lynn Slowman.

The RAC has praised Mr Begg for coming up with an "imaginative" scheme that would help reduce dependency on car ownership. "We will look at the pilot to see if similar schemes can be spread throughout the country," said its campaigns manager, Richard Woods.

Marchmont/Sciennes is an affluent district close to the centre of the city. In an area of bumper-to-bumper street parking, there are fears that unless locals sell their cars before joining the club, the scheme could exacerbate congestion. "It's a hell of a step to take to sell your car before you can see if the club works or not," said John Christie, a retired lecturer and the community council chairman.

And what is the point of introducing one scheme before other solutions to Edinburgh's transport problems are in place? "The council is starting at the wrong end. What we need is better public transport, properly integrated and co-ordinated," Mr Christie said.

The AA is lukewarm, too. It is not convinced the club will work "unless it is linked in with a car-free housing zone - otherwise people will still be able to have their own cars," said its road and environment officer, Neil Greig.

He also questions the costs to the consumer. Edinburgh council estimates that, based on an annual mileage of 5,600, a club car would cost pounds 3,700 compared with pounds 5,500 for a privately owned car. Figures now on the table are an annual fee of pounds 120, plus charges of pounds 2.50 an hour or pounds 30 a day, and 32p for each mile driven. "It's not a bargain," he said.