In the last couple of years there has been a massive boom in the number of drivers sharing lifts to work across Scotland, according to figures obtained by the Sunday Herald.
Since September 2008, the number of people who have signed up to one of Scotland’s online “liftshare” networks has increased by 50% from 16,200 to 24,300. There has been a similar rise throughout the UK, with numbers leaping from 270,000 two years ago to nearly 400,000 now.
And the boom is set to continue, with the celebration of the UK’s first ‘liftshare week’ from Monday, designed to recruit more drivers and sharers. Organisers are distributing wild-west-style “wanted” posters urging people not to be “a lone ranger”.
One of those who has already benefited from car-sharing is Catriona Kerr from East Kilbride. She has to commute to work in Stirling every weekday ”which can be tiring and costly,” she said.
To her surprise, she found someone who lived nearby and who went to work in the same business park. They now share the driving, helping their bank balances, and reducing pollution.
“My journey is not as much of a chore anymore as chatting helps pass the time, especially when constantly stuck in traffic,” commented Kerr. “Life is a little bit easier.”
According to the liftshare network, the economic incentive can be substantial. “Sharing a car with someone else going your way can save you hundreds – even thousands – of pounds a year,” said liftshare’s Cecilia Bromley-Martin.
“We have seen a huge rise in the number of people signing up to car-share over the past two years. For a lot of members, this is to do with fuel price increases: drivers are paying about 10 pence more per litre than they were this time last year, and are looking for ways to reduce their petrol bills.”
She added: “But we also hear from members who are very motivated by the environmental worry of driving an otherwise empty car every day, whilst for those without access to their own car or convenient public transport, it can be a very sociable and economical way to get around.”
A full car can be less polluting than public transport, Bromley–Martin pointed out. According to government figures, average carbon dioxide emissions from a small car carrying four people, or a large car with five people, were lower per person than emissions from buses or trains.
On average, car-sharers are reckoned to reduce their carbon emissions by about a tonne a year. Around a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transport.
There are at least eight liftshare networks in Scotland (see below), all linked to the UK liftshare website. According to the Scottish Household Survey, 66% of people travelled to work by car or van in 2008, 60% as the driver and six per cent as a passenger.
Said Bromley-Martin: “Liftshare week is the first ever week dedicated to car-sharing, and the aim is simply to encourage and enable as many people as possible to give car-sharing a try, and discover all the benefits it brings with it,” she said.
Car-sharing may not work for everyone, though. It can mean less flexibility in working hours, as they have to be co-ordinated with others, and there’s no guarantee that car-sharers will get on.
The liftshare network recommends that potential partners meet for the first time in a public place, and don’t swap addresses until they know each other. Potential sharers can also opt to chose the gender of their partners.
But for thousands of people, it has been a boon. Simon Fraser commutes from Dundee to Glenrothes, cycling to meet his car-share partner at the Tay Bridge.
“I still get my exercise in the morning,” he said. “It also saves me a lot of money – about £130 a month. As the passenger, it takes the stress out of getting to work for me, and my car-sharer is happy because she’s sharing the costs.”
How one man’s journey to work has changed for the better
Michael Fielding (33) was fed up driving himself to work. “It was pretty tedious and a waste of my time,” he recalled. “All I was doing was staring at bumpers and tarmac, and there are other things I’d rather do for an hour a day.”
He lives in Linlithgow and works as patents manager at the green technology company, Artemis Intelligent Power, at Loanhead, just outside Edinburgh. That means more than a 30-kilometre commute every working day.
On his lonesome drive to work, he kept seeing overhead electronic message boards, urging him to be courteous, and not to use his mobile phone. “Every time I came to work I’d pass two or three of these signs suggesting drivers try car-sharing, and I thought I must look it up,” he said.
“I’d always liked the idea of lift sharing but always thought there'd be nobody going from my smallish town to anywhere near my work, in a different smallish town over 30 kilometres away, but I was wrong.”
Fielding found three people who drove close to his work, and one who actually drove right past his house. “So I now share with a very nice woman and it’s going great,” he told the Sunday Herald.
“We have a lot in common and so we chat, but I also get to check my emails and the news on my phone on the way to work. She actually does all the driving because she travels further than me, so carries on after she’s dropped me off.”
He advises others wanting lift-shares to look for people travelling over a wide area to find matches. “For me, the main benefits are that I can work in car, I have good company, and I arrive home much more chilled out,” he added.
“My car-sharer really appreciates the financial contribution I make to her fuel costs - in fact she wants her husband to car-share now too, so then they can get rid of one of their cars.”
Scotland's liftshare websites are angusliftshare.com, caithnessjourneyshare.co.uk, carshareaberdeenshire.com, nestransliftshare.com, stirlingliftshare.com, tactranliftshare.com, dundeeliftshare.com, tripsharesestran.com.