Andrew Girdwood: The rise of car sharing in Scotland

Uber has struggled in Edinburgh Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Uber has struggled in Edinburgh Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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On the same day that the High Court ruled Uber was legal in London, that the disruptive American company’s app did not count as a taxi, the service launched in Glasgow

Uber works by connecting passengers looking for a lift with a driver who is able to offer one. It is easy to see why Transport for London thought this might be a taxi-like deal. Uber’s smartphone app, however, offers a fee in advance rather than running a metre.

Uber’s success in Glasgow is yet to be determined and the company has struggled in Edinburgh, unable to get into first gear, but in those cities where the service has found traction many passengers quickly become reliant on it. Uber’s prices, backed and subsidised by wealthy venture capitalists, are very cheap and the service is effective.

There are cheaper alternatives to Uber and these services are increasingly popular across Scotland.

Uber is a company in search of profit. The drivers who pay Uber to find them passengers are looking to earn a living or boost their income by taking paying passengers. These drivers need beefy car insurance and that needs to be paid for.

Car sharing services like Liftshare and GoCarShare have a different solution. These communities connect every day drivers looking for passengers to share the daily commute or one-off long drives.

These drivers are not allowed to make a profit; they can only split the petrol costs with their passengers. This approach is backed by the Association of British Insurers which means standard car insurance is all that is needed.

Drivers who fill their car successfully recoup their petrol costs plus some allowance for wear and tear on the vehicle. Passengers get access to car travel for a fraction of the usual cost.

Liftshare.com’s growth in Edinburgh and surrounds over the last 14 years is mapped in this lightening time-lapse. The brighter lines indicate the more popular routes and we can see the map form from virtually a blank slate to almost a detailed road map.

How cost effective is car sharing? The Trainline currently lists the cheapest single between Edinburgh and Glasgow at about £10, edging up or down depending on the hour. The door to door alternative on Liftshare will cost less than £5.

Price might not be the only factor. Traffic jams are a problem in Scotland with the latest figures showing road congestion is at its worst for six years

Uber may just find itself unpopular in Glasgow for this very reason. Updated statistics from the Department for Transport have tracked an increase in the number of private hire vehicles in England.

There was a 25 per cent surge in London that correlates to when Uber became active in the city.

These private hire drivers are on the road, roaming around, looking for passengers and making trips they would not normally do. This contrasts to the true sharing economy model where drivers post the details of a trip they are making anyway.

Access to a car can be a life changer for many in Scotland. A recent report from Policy Exchange, On the Move , argued the case for tax breaks for those who offered liftshares. The think tank cited research which revealed those with access to cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain in that job than those without.

So while Uber is trying to push into Scotland it seems likely that the taxi-like, high tech, service will only be part of the picture. The find a friendly passenger or driver heading in your direction and splitting the petrol cost approach is there to assist with daily trips, like going to work, or longer drives up to festivals or football matches, is likely to find steady growth too.

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