Green drivers set up first car sharing club in UK

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NEIGHBOURS living in a leafy Yorkshire suburb are about to launch the country's first car share and ownership club in an attempt to save money and to lead a greener way of life.

At least 20 households will use just three cars for regular journeys to work as well as those for pleasure. They are almost ready for the road after months of research and some practice, well ahead of similar schemes that have been planned in Coventry and Edinburgh.

Chas Ball, 50, an economic development consultant, and Jonathan Lindh, 39, an architect, have put in the ground work, sharing a Vauxhall Cavalier for the past nine months in Chapel Allerton, Leeds.

"It's a big step up from informal car sharing to a car ownership club," said Mr Lindh. "But we will have to see how it goes. No one else in this country has done it, although there are clubs in Germany, Holland and Switzerland."

The men have drawn up an agreement setting out the dos and don'ts of co-ownership and sharing, which forms the blue print for the club called Co-drive. It covers issues such as fixed and variable costs and the resolution of any conflicts. Management of the scheme will be contracted out.

"Conflicts are rare," said Mr Ball. "It hasn't really come to it. Our needs are quite compatible but sometimes Jonathan will ring up asking if he can have the car the next day and usually it's not a problem. If we both want the car, it's a case of whose turn is it to back down but, if necessary, one of us would hire a car."

Careful planning is essential for successful sharing. "I would give Chas about a month's notice if I wanted to take the car for a few days' family holiday," said Mr Lindh. "It is important to be organised and to be considerate of each other."

Car sharing, added Mr Lindh, can greatly strengthen a community, encouraging people to get to know each other, as well as giving them something to talk about. "And environmentally it means fewer cars on the road and less pollution. I see it as a rehearsal for the future because we will all have to be doing more of this kind of thing."

Co-drive will work on a booking system and will rely on users to return the car to a central point where it can be picked up by the next motorist. Buying a car and organising the provision of insurance, the renewal of road tax and the necessary maintenance will be Co-drive's worries rather than that of the individual motorists.

"All of that will be contracted out, including the booking system," said Mr Ball. Club users will pay a registration fee plus monthly standing orders which are unlikely to top the cost of the road tax of pounds 150.

A trip to the Yorkshire Dales for the day would probably cost a family about pounds 20, not necessarily cheaper than hiring a car, said Mr Ball, but Co-drive membership offers more flexibility.

One carless family are impatient for Co-drive to begin. "We are really looking forward to it," said Adrian Sinclair, 36, a film director. "We did have a car but we wanted to get rid of it. It was great for certain journeys like taking the kids out but, much of the time, it was just sitting out there.

"Co-drive will be great for trips to B&Q as well as day trips and I won't have to worry about road tax and insurance which is great too. I think it is important that it is done well, that when you have booked a car, it is there waiting for you."

Head of roads and transport policy at the AA, Paul Watters, said the organisation never stood in the way of innovation but added: "There are disbenefits. Shared things take a battering so reliability could be a problem and car clubs can take people away from public transport. But anything that cuts down on pollution is worth a try."