Why urban car ownership is a thing of the past

Car sharing, car pooling, lift sharing. Electric cars, driverless cars, Boris cars. Surge pricing, taxi wars, sharing economies, sunk asset monetization, on-demand, by-the-minute, hassle-free. There’s probably more jargon around the industry than there are competitors right now.

As managing director of DriveNow, I’m probably slightly biased when it comes to an industry overview, but one thing I can tell you is that car ownership in cities is dying, and it’s dying fast.

The average car spends 96% of its life parked. And yet you pay your insurance every month. You pay the annual service, MOTs, taxes, residents parking, the inevitable parking fines. In a tech-driven city like London that’s pioneering urban optimization, it’s a surprise so many people – 2.6m of them to be precise – still feel the need to own their own car.

Five years ago, there simply weren’t enough alternatives to car ownership. Fast forward to today, and London’s mobility mix is unrivalled. Public transport has improved, 24hour tubes are on the way, plus companies like DriveNow, ZipCar and Uber have come in and disrupted the market. There’s now a solution to satisfy virtually every consumer need.

So what is DriveNow, and how can we help you get rid of that car parked outside your house? To put it simply, it’s a fully flexible, on-demand ‘free-floating’ car sharing service. This means you can pick up a car anywhere in the catchment area (currently Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest and Haringey) – just find your nearest car with the DriveNow app.  Once you’ve finished your trip, just drop it off wherever you want (in any residents or paid for parking spaces) within the business area. With prices set from 32p per minute, a 20 minute journey works out cheaper than UberX, creating a whole new market niche. Why get driven along the main roads when you can take the short cuts yourself?

We’re letting customers drive from A to B – just like they could in their own car – but without having to drive back to A again. The service has been designed specifically for city life; for people who start their Saturdays without knowing how it will finish.

Most importantly, we know the service is working because DriveNow users are selling their cars. A recent study in Germany (where there are now about 430,000 DriveNow users) found that 38% of customers had given up one privately owned car within the last few years. One of the most stated reasons was to get access to a car via free floating carsharing any time. Rather than eroding public transport use, the study also showed car sharing services fitting seamlessly into established transport options. For example, 65% of the surveyed car sharing customers still use public transport more than once a week. In fact, it’s estimated that for every one DriveNow car added to the fleet, between 7 and 13 privately owned cars will be taken off the road.

So we’re taking cars off London’s streets, but we also want to make London a greener city by pushing the use of electric vehicles (EVs). EVs have a hugely important role to play in London’s future as air quality levels worsen and the population rises.

DriveNow currently has a fleet of 30 electric BMW i3 vehicles in London, in addition to 240 BMW 1 series and MINI Countryman models, equipped with highly efficient engines. We’d like to add more i3s to the London fleet, but before we do that we have to work with third parties to ensure the charging infrastructure is working, and at a good standard. At the moment, it needs massive improvement in terms of both reliability and accessibility. London also is in desperate need of rapid charging points. Waiting three hours to charge a car is completely impractical (and what’s more, completely unnecessary given technology exists that will charge EVs in 20 minutes). It’s key that London invests in this – if we want a cleaner city, we’re going to need infrastructure to provide for these options.

So next time you’re comparing your meerkat, or wincing at that invoice handed to you by a shifty-looking mechanic, just remember: it doesn’t have to be that way!