What benefits can car-sharing club membership bring to corporate mobility programmes?
“I AM A YOUNG EXECUTIVE. NO CUFFS THAN MINE ARE CLEANER; I have a Slimline briefcase, and I use the firm’s Cortina.” That may have been true when John Betjeman penned his poem Executive, but today’s thrusting young go-getter is more likely to have eschewed the car in favour of a cash alternative.
Once the ultimate arriviste status symbol, the company car has been going out of fashion for years, as increasing numbers of employees opt to use their own cars for business purposes in return for a fat cheque.
All of which, from a corporate perspective, throws up a welter of issues – not least because employers have little oversight of the roadworthiness of the vehicle being used in their name. The unscrupulous find it relatively easy to inflate their mileage expense claims, they are office-bound while their cars are being serviced, there are constant squabbles over parking spaces and so on, ad infinitum.
The short answer to the question of what car-sharing brings to the table, at least according to Beate Kubitz, communications manager at car club organisation Carplus, is “control”.
Having initially targeted the occasional-user market, many car-sharing companies are now focusing on the corporate market, fulfilling duty-of-care requirements and providing a welter of important management information.
They are also helping to reduce emissions and, crucially, they are producing dramatic cost savings.
CROYDON BOROUGH AND CITY OF YORK COUNCILS
WHEN CROYDON BOROUGH COUNCIL EMBARKED ON A TWO-YEAR PROGRAMME to review its car-use policy, it first investigated its ‘grey fleet’ – the use by council employees of their own vehicles for council business.
The figures were astounding. The 1,284 employees – around one-third of the entire staff – who were considered to be essential car users were notching up 1.1 million miles a year, at a cost of £1.3 million, and emitting 345 tonnes of CO2 in the process. Staff issues over insufficient parking spaces were also taking up management time.
In the space of two years, working in partnership with Avis-owned Zipcar, the council managed to reduce the number of ‘essential’ car users to 611, achieve a 48 per cent reduction – to 642,000 miles – in the distance covered, and cut its CO2 emissions to 207 tonnes. Crucially, the cost to council taxpayers was slashed by 64 per cent to £472,000.
Using Zipcar’s ‘hybrid’ solution, 23 vehicles are reserved for council employees’ exclusive use during working hours, but are available to all Zipcar members after 6pm during the week and throughout the weekends.
City of York Council operates a similar scheme with Enterprise-owned City Car Club, reducing its grey fleet by 24 per cent and saving nearly £100,000 in the first year of operation. As part of a broader project, the council asked staff members to plan their journeys ahead of time, to consider whether the car was the best – rather than easiest – option, and to consider how long they actually needed the car for.
The result has been a significant increase in employees’ use of public transport, and in the number of those who now opt to walk or cycle to work.
James Williams, City of York’s staff travel project manager, said: “Vehicles are available to suit a wide range of travel demands from our staff. From social workers who need to carry around child car-seats, to engineers who are required to carry large items of kit, there is always something to cater for everyone’s needs.”
MARK WALKER, general manager UK, Zipcar
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF BENEFITS FOR CORPORATES AND THEIR EMPLOYEES. One is, if employees need to make a business journey by car, they can access existing Zipcar vehicles that are already out there, from their home if that’s convenient – and very often it is. Some corporate customers prefer to have dedicated cars, so we can set up what is effectively a car-pool service for them. The cars are usually parked at the company’s premises, employees can access them 24/7, and we provide excellent management information about every single trip.
Because it is possible to book cars by the hour and half-hour, it means that unlike some other solutions, multiple employees can use the same vehicles.
There is also a hybrid solution, which we currently operate with a number of councils, where we ring-fence a number of cars during business hours, Monday to Friday, for their exclusive use. Outside those times, at evenings and weekends, any Zipcar member can use those cars.
For the corporate client, there are also three ‘hidden’ benefits that accrue. First, duty-of-care is taken care of; second, these cars will be much lower-emitting than the typical privately-owned car; and third, one of the unexpected benefits is that it eliminates the need to drive to work. If you need your own car for work, obviously you have to drive it there in the first place – once an employer provides a car-sharing service, people walk or cycle to work, or use public transport, reducing emissions still further.
CHRISTIAN GLEAVE, chief executive officer, Review Travel
WITH CAR-SHARING, IT DEPENDS ON THE CORPORATE – clearly some companies and organisations could benefit hugely from such schemes, but one suspects they are relatively few and far between.
To my mind, the biggest challenge facing car-sharing clubs looking to break into the corporate market is that, as I understand it, the vehicles have to be returned to their original location – a business traveller heading overseas can’t leave the car at the airport, but would have to be accompanied by a ‘spare’ driver to take it back.
The hybrid scheme works well for organisations with a high volume of traffic between multiple sites, such as local authorities, but for those with only an occasional need for a car, such schemes are unlikely to be cost-effective.
For very small businesses and sole traders, the convenience and cost-saving of being able to book a locally-available vehicle could be an attractive option, but that presents another challenge – business meetings are often somewhat impromptu affairs, and cannot generally be arranged around the availability or otherwise of a car.
Another challenge, for suppliers, is that, for obvious commercial reasons, they tend to be centred in larger towns and cities, where public transport alternatives are generally readily available. Why take a car across London, for example, when it’s probably quicker to take the Underground?
However, on the plus side, there are clearly organisations for which car-sharing clubs could represent a real and valuable solution. The biggest bonus would seem to be the elimination of the employees’ need to use their own cars for business purposes.
The more sophisticated clubs’ management information systems provide data on which to base cost-saving initiatives and which, incidentally, remove the potential for expense claim fraud; parking charges are drastically reduced, if not eliminated altogether; and the evidence to date indicates there is also a significant environmental benefit.
The biggest advantage, however, is the reassurance that the vehicles are of a consistently high standard. Employees may miss the familiarity of their own cars – the box of tissues on the back seat and the Tic Tacs in the glove compartment – but employers certainly won’t miss the duty-of-care worries.
Car-sharing club membership is unlikely to be of benefit to more than a small segment of the corporate market, but for those for whom it works, it works well.