Ever considered car-sharing?

Do you regularly travel to work with empty seats in the car? What about the shops, the station, or university?
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IMG_3104 courtesy of University of Exeter on Flickr. It’s difficult to be precise about the number of cars on the road that have no passengers – what do you reckon, about half of them during the rush-hour? If that estimate is anywhere close to being accurate, that’s a lot of cars covering a lot of miles.

Going solo

There’s nothing wrong with driving alone, of course. Many people welcome the solitude or the chance to listen to their favourite music or talk radio station. But have you ever stopped to consider the downsides to solo car journeys? For a start the cost can be high as there’s no one to share the fuel bill. Then there’s the environmental impact of so many cars on the road: an estimated 90% of London’s air pollution is caused by road traffic. Driver-only cars also add to the congestion on Britain’s roads.

Fair shares

But don’t worry. You can cut the cost of car travel, help the environment and reduce congestion by sharing your car, or sharing someone else’s. All you have to do is team up with someone who’s going your way and needs a lift, or is willing to offer you one. You can advertise lifts or find rides on a number of car sharing websites such as www.liftshare.com, www.blablacar.com and www.carpooling.co.uk. It doesn’t usually cost anything to register, but you will have to provide some basic details. Most also insist that you are over 18. Several local authorities and universities also run lift sharing services.

How does it work?

Say you drive from Slough to Windsor every day on your own. If you want someone to share the journey, you could post the details of your trip onto your chosen website and wait for passengers to book a ride. But it doesn’t have to be a regular journey – the concept works just as well for one-off trips as well as commutes. You could, perhaps, be heading to an airport or a football match. You probably won’t be lucky every time, but if you connect with a passenger or driver, you then make contact to discuss the arrangements. Many people are happy to use their mobile phone. But if you are concerned about privacy, some websites operate an internal messaging system.

Cost considerations

The cost of a journey obviously varies according to the length of the trip, but you are not out to make a profit. If you start cashing in on car sharing, there are all sorts of tax and insurance implications. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about the sums. Most lift sharing services calculate a fixed fee according to HM Revenue & Customs’ Approved Mileage Payout Allowance, so it’s all agreed at the outset. It is, however, a good idea to contact your insurance company if you are planning to car share. Most insurers happily allow passengers to contribute towards the cost of a journey, as long as you are not making a profit. But it’s best to check, just to be on the safe side. Passengers usually pay in cash at the start of the journey, though some websites allow online payments in advance. If the passenger doesn’t show up, you would then still get paid.

Rating systems

Talking of no-shows, there are risks with car sharing. The passenger might be rude, late, or reluctant to pay. The services try to minimise the risks by operating a rating system, so you can comment on the passenger or driver. They also advise on car sharing etiquette. It is recommended, for example, that you let the driver control the car radio. Smoking is another no-no, unless you have the car owner’s permission. But car sharing is still a leap of faith – you obviously have to be sensible about safety. Always meet in a public place – don’t pick up from the passenger’s home. And also check the passenger’s ID before they get into the car. If you have any doubts, make your apologies and leave. Do you car-share? Or are you grateful for the refuge provided by your car on solo journeys? Let us know in the box below…
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