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Appy motoring - Airbnb for the road user moves into higher gear

Car clubs are set to be the success story of 2017. Katie Wright reports

In just a few years, it's become second nature for many of us to reach for the Uber app if we need a ride home, or to turn to Airbnb to find a flat to rent when we're heading off on holiday (or even find guests to stay in ours).

Now, the kind of app that combines those two services is growing in popularity, with "car clubs" offering vehicles for hire and letting owners make money when their cars would otherwise be unused.

CarPlus, a charity that supports developing clubs, lists 11 services operating in UK cities (you might recognise names like Zipcar, or Hiyacar), plus more than 30 clubs limited to smaller areas.

Unlike traditional hire firms, with car clubs, vehicles are located in neighbourhoods, so members can find the nearest available rental online or with an app, then use a smart card to gain access and drive off.

For car owners, it works like Airbnb. List your car and take bookings online, then arrange for the key exchange and return.

The financial perks are obvious: renters get the use of a car when they need one, from as little as £3.50 an hour, without having to worry about tax, insurance, fuel and other costs, while owners can make extra cash to offset the expensive business of owning a car.

It's convenient and can be a lifesaver on days when strikes or other transport disruption - an all-too-frequent occurrence in some parts of Britain - threaten to derail your plans.

There are environmental benefits, too, as Carplus says for every car introduced to London by a car club, 10 privately-owned cars go off the road.

And, because renters tend to drive fewer short distances than owners, carbon emissions are reduced.

The latest entrant to the UK marketplace is Turo (turo.com), which has launched by partnering with a selection of car hire entrepreneurs, whose fleets include classic British cars like Mini Coopers and Rolls Royces (individuals will be able to list their cars later this year).

"With Turo, you know exactly what car you're hiring, rather than simply selecting a category which gives you an estimated type of car," explains Matheus Riolfi, Turo director, UK.

While adoption here has been slower, the car-sharing economy has really taken off in Berlin, where BMW-run service DriveNow has 200,000 members.

The Car Club Strategy report last year stated that public awareness is a problem, as only 37% of people polled had heard of car clubs.

Let's hope that improves as more clubs open up, because a money-saving (or making), traffic-easing, pollution-reducing transport method is good news for everyone.

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