Our intrepid expert-at-large travels to Oxford to learn about the benefits of renting EVs
By Robert Llewellyn on May 18, 2012 3:36 PM
This week I drove to Oxford in my Nissan Leaf, when I got there, a nice man in a suit took it away from me to re-charge it. I was very trusting I suppose, but he was wearing a suit.
I was attending a launch event at Rhodes House, which is the home of the Rhodes scholarship. Never heard of it? Well, former American President Bill Clinton and former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke were both Rhodes scholars. It’s fairly posh and full of history; in 1931 Einstein gave a lecture in the hall where we watched the presentation.
Norman Baker, the Lib-Dem MP and Under Secretary of State for Transport explained the government’s commitment to a low carbon transport system. No, steady on, that’s what he said.
David Martell from Chargemaster who organised and sponsored the event explained why they were putting the charge points in the town. They are effectively flooding the market, if you drive an electric car into Oxford, you will be able to charge it.
Aside from the fact that the city now has 60 charge points for electric cars there is also a very interesting scheme being launched for short term electric car rental.
Hertz is installing 10 special parking bays around the city for 10 Nissan Leafs that you will be able to rent by the hour, the day or the week. The parking bays are for those cars only, they each have a re-charge point and it is not expensive to hire one. You need to sign up for the ‘Hertz On Demand’ scheme that costs nothing to join. That’s correct, joining is free.
Then you can book the car online or with an app, turn up, get in, drive off. It costs just over £5 an hour, if you want it longer the prices are roughly the same as any hire car.
The fee covers insurance, roadside assistance and all the usual gubbins. You can even return the car empty and just plug it in again, try doing that with an ‘economic diesel’ rental car.
So what could this possibly mean in the long term, why are Hertz doing this, why is Oxford City Council so keen to be involved? Why was the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Elise Benjamin, a member of the Green party present? She rides a bike everywhere.
Well, the findings of a community car club in Oxford were very interesting. When it was launched, the local area was, as is often the case in cities, a nightmare for local residents to find a parking space. There was massive overcrowding as people living in terraced housing bought more and more cars. But in the first year of this scheme, 60 local residents sold their cars and just used the car club vehicles.
It is also one of the most common queries I get asked about. When I meet people interested in buying an electric car but don’t because they have nowhere off the street to park and re-charge them. People who live in flats, or where there is only on street parking, what’s the solution they ask.
Well, in Oxford at least the, solution is don’t buy a car. Join a car club. Use a car when you need to and don’t worry about it the rest of the time.
Okay, so there’s only ten of the Hertz EV cars in a mid-sized city, clearly it’s not enough. But what if there were a thousand electric cars in Oxford, each with their own parking space that no one else could ever use. What if 10,000 people got rid of their privately owned cars and used the car club cars?
I can already hear the comments, ‘what if I book my car and when I get to it the batteries are flat, what if I need to drive to work every day, what if I need to drive to Scotland.’
I’m not suggesting that it is a panacea, a solution to every transportation dilemma the human race has ever encountered, but just because we are used to the current model doesn’t mean it is sensible, sustainable or even very sane.
Briefly consider the shocking fact that at any one time, a full 92% of all the cars in the world are not in use. I’m not talking broken down cars, scrapped cars, I’m talking runners. Ready to go vehicles. Is this just possibly a massive waste of a valuable resource? Is it conceivable that the current model, the ‘normal’ thing to do with a car is just a little bit bonkers?
There may be other models emerging, for example Getaround (http://www.getaround.com) a peer-to-peer car-sharing scheme recently launched in California. If you own a car you can rent it out when you’re not using it. Again, riddled with pitfalls, but they’ve worked out what is a rapidly growing and fairly pain free system.
What I think the Oxford scheme does is say, ‘there is somewhere to charge an electric car, you can use it when you like and you don’t have to spend half a years income to buy it, you don’t need to worry about battery depreciation and you can always park it, in Oxford!’ That alone is worth £5 an hour.
I’ve signed up, I’m going to catch a train to Oxford when the scheme is fully operational and just drive around for the bants. I’m not going to IKEA though, that’s a step too far.
About Robert Llewellyn
Columnist Robert Llewellyn is a comedian, actor, presenter and writer. He’s perhaps best known for his role as Kryten in hit BBC comedy Red Dwarf and as co-presenter of Channel 4’s Scrapheap Challenge, but since creating the Carpool series he has been invited to test drive all kinds of cars, from the pure electric Tesla Roadster sports car to the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car. As a result Robert has become an expert on green cars, in particular electric cars, launching EV web series Fully Charged in 2010.
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