Car clubs to curb India's car obsession

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New Delhi, Nov 18 (UNI) With the looming threat of global warming and energy insecurity running high coupled with costs of insurance, maintenance, road tax, breakdown cover, parking and fuel prices, Car Clubs may be the only answer to India's obsession with private transport.

Hitting the road can mean digging deep. The cost of insurance, maintenance, fuel, road tax and parking - just some of the expenses involved - can amount to a lakh of rupees a year.

Parking slots in the zone comprising Malabar Hill, Altamount Road and Walkeshwar Road in Mumbai cost Rs25 lakh.

To reduce the expense and hassle, more and more countries around the world are turning to car clubs as an alternative. For a small annual fee or one-off membership charge, they can book a vehicle for as little under a minute, and is charged only for how long they use it and how far they drive.

Car clubs in their modern form began in Switzerland in the late 1980s and other successful schemes are in the UK, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

The car clubs provide a membership and anyone who needs a car can log on to a website or phone the host company to book one. The cars are present in every locality in a parking bay and one needs to swipe a smart card across the windscreen to open the car.

The hourly rate is usually very low and often a free daily fuel allowance of some kilometres is included. After that, you pay for the kilometers you drive.

Most of these cars are hybrids or fuel efficient small cars, so it cuts down significantly on pollution and fuel intake.

''Most of the pollution that takes place happens from cars which are more than three years old. In this case smaller, newer cars can certainly bring down emission levels,'' said Mahindra and Mahindra Head (Business Strategy) Ketan Doshi.

India is already maxing out its streets and now runs the risk of choking its economy on smog and traffic. There are 11 personal vehicles for every 1,000 eligible drivers in India. China, has nine personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers.

Car-sharing using 'car clubs' is a successful way of reducing vehicle usage and ownership amongst those who join, and has proven to be effective in several countries.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in his article 'No, No, No, Don't Follow Us' notes that a recently-opened highway in Hyderabad has already reached capacity, suffering from the very bottlenecks it was built to prevent.

Mr Doshi, however, feels that for many in India the ownership of a car is more of a prestige issue and this might prove to be the flipside to concept of car clubs. ''It is important for many to have a car in front of their house.'' If the membership fee is low and the cost of operating the car is lower, the car clubs can be very successful in India, he adds.

As Mr Friedman suggests, India should make itself the leader in clean mass mobility. ''It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems - rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.'' UNI

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