We have Zipcars here and I've looked into this a bit... maybe it bears greater investigation?

U.K. motorists zip to quicky rentals.

Reuters Published: Monday, July 07, 2008

LONDON -- Fed up with the cost and hassle of keeping their own car on the road, Britons are increasingly signing up for clubs where vehicles can be hired by the hour for just a few pounds.

"We have seen a 25 per cent spike in membership month-on-month since the credit crunch started to bite. People are working out the cost of motoring and seeing they can make savings of up to 80-90 per cent by using car clubs," said Paul McLoughlin, managing director of Zipcar, one such car club.

"People are feeling the pinch in their pockets and looking to alternatives."

In Britain, where gasoline costs more than $2.25 a litre, motorists are saving money by switching to car clubs.

Car clubs like Zipcar differ from traditional car rental companies in that members pay a joining or annual fee -- typically about 50 pounds ($100) -- and use smartcards to unlock vehicles left across the city in designated parking bays.

In contrast with rental firms, many car clubs give free gasoline for up to 100 kilometres a day and members can have a car for as short or as long as they want.

The concept is well established in other countries and Zipcar boasts 350,000 members worldwide, most of them in the United States.

The AA motoring organization estimates the cost of owning a car, whether it is used or not, to be about $8,000 for an average family car including depreciation. This does not include fuel costs, repairs or parking fees or road tolls.

"We have seen a huge rise in member numbers since fuel prices started to go up," said Paul Johnson at Zipcar's competitor Streetcar, Britain's largest car club with 35,000 users and cars available from $7.90 per hour.

The schemes are most attractive to people who live in cities, commute to work via public transport and who use vehicles only occasionally.

Most of the car clubs in Britain concentrate operations in London, but many of them have vehicles in other towns and cities, including Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. In all more than a dozen urban centres have a car club presence.

"Car clubs are great for the short, odd trip -- such as going to the supermarket or collecting someone from the airport," said Roberta Hobbs, who joined Zipcar in January.

"Our car, a Range Rover, died and we made the decision not to replace it," the mother of two said.

The television producer said the cost of getting a new vehicle, maintaining it and the problems of street parking near her central London home were deciding factors.

"I did my sums and reckoned the cost of keeping a car on the road in London together with fuel, parking and maintenance was in the region of $10,000."

"It just didn't make sense to own a car that spent most of its time parked."

Hobbs said she uses Zipcar for local trips, but opts for a traditional car rental firm on longer journeys. "It tends to work out more cost effective that way."

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008