The rise of car clubs in London

London Car Clubs

Feature Photo by Leandro Mazzuquini on Unsplash

It’s often said you’re never more than six feet away from a rat in London (though it’s perhaps more accurate to say you’re never more than 160ft, according to the BBC) – nevertheless, something similar could potentially now be claimed about proximity to car club vehicles.

Car clubs, which provide fleets of vehicles dotted around the city for members to access for short term hire either via a subscription or casual payments, are well resourced in London.

A click on ZipCar, Enterprise or any of the other top car clubs’ vehicle availability maps shows just how many car club vehicles are now in the city. These maps highlight the on-street and car park areas where car club cars are available for collection.

This is only set to increase, as Transport for London (TfL) in association with London councils have a goal of making them even more prevalent.

How car clubs have grown in the city

The push to increase car club useage in London was solidified with a TfL commitment to get one million members by 2025.

The argument for doing so hinges on factors including the sense that car clubs reduce car use overall, free up parking spaces and have environmental benefits due to the use of cleaner, and often, electric vehicles.

Car clubs were promoted by a consortium of boroughs, including Camden, Islington, Ealing and Kensington and Chelsea even from the date of their arrival in the city in 2003. 

Young people worldwide are less interested in owning a car

With increasing costs related to car ownership for young people, particularly in relation to insurance, combined with rising environmental awareness, there appears to be increasing disinterest in owning a vehicle, which could further promote interest in car clubs. 

Deloitte’s Global Automotive Consumer Study showed, in five out of the six countries surveyed, Gen Y/Z users of ride hailing services questioned their need to own a vehicle more so than older people.

Dr Matthew Niblet, director of Britain’s Independent Transport Commission, has been quoted as saying: “The idea of the car being a status symbol and something that is essential to own, is less strong than it used to be.”

And ING, the international banking corporation, has predicted that in 2035, one in every nine cars sold will be ‘shared cars.’

Will car clubs ultimately replace personal car ownership?

A recent study into the future of car ownership included some stark predictions around its potential demise, even outside of the capital.

Niv Calderon, a tech blogger and business and marketing strategist, said: “By 2030, people will have been born into the ride-sharing/car-sharing economy, just like people who are today 15 and grew up not knowing a world without smartphones.

“I think ‘usership’ and ‘subscription’ models will eventually overtake traditional car ownership in some parts of the world.”

Though, Dr Tim Schwanen, Director of the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford, who is also quoted in the report, is more reserved in his judgement.

He said: “Using a different car each time you go for a drive is all very well if you have nothing to carry around. If, for your job, you need to keep things in your car or if you have children, your priorities may be different. 

“Ultimately, people have far more complex relationships with their cars than they appreciate.”