Arriving home late on a Friday night in December, I was shocked to discover that I had been burgled, and it was the next day before I discovered they had stolen my only car key. I rushed to the door and it was still there, and it was again the next day and the next day. The car had a big secret: the big end was gone and if they stole it that might be the end of my problem. As it was, a 15-year-old BMW was worth little with a busted big end.
So there it sat, waiting for me to pay €200 for a new set of keys or whatever, and so I did nothing. It was taxed, insured, had a parking permit and NCT. I loved my car and could not bear to write it off yet.
When it came to the end of the tax I realised that putting the car off the road was the only option. There was nothing for it but “end-of-life”. Which as it happened turned out to be simple and easy to do. Cars must be disposed of at authorised treatment facilities. I called Hammond Lane in Dublin 4 and they gave me the name of someone who would collect it. He turned up in a big truck on a Saturday morning, broke the window for me to remove my stuff, and hauled it up on top of three others cars and off to Hammond Lane. It all took 10 minutes and cost nothing, the dismantlers paid a fee of €70 to the haulier and the end-of-life certificate arrived within a week.
Three months later I still have not replaced my car and have a number of alternatives in place. Living in Dublin city meant it is reasonably easy to get taxis, and the mytaxi app is ideal – I am never waiting more than five minutes for a taxi. But then there were things like shopping, recycling, visiting parents and family, weekend walking, visits to friends in the country, trips to Ikea, and the occasional spa break. How would I manage?
GoCars began appearing on our streets in the past three years and luckily enough they began appearing in the streets around my home. I signed up for GoCar and paid €50 for the first year. It was easy to do. I was able to use it from the first day with the app on my smartphone and pin number. A card arrived a few days later.
You can use the app to open and close the car, but the card works best. You hold the card to the windscreen and the door releases. When you get in the car a voice asks you to enter the pin number in the keypad in the glove compartment and take the keys which are attached. Adjust the seat and mirror and off you go.
The cars are a variety of Ford and Hyundai superminis and hatchbacks. There are also a few BMW i3 electric cars. The cheapest rate is €8.00 per hour, plus a kilometre charge of 50 cents. Insurance, tax, fuel and parking are all included in the cost. There is a fuel card in the car for topping up when the gauge gets below a quarter tank. You must return the car to the base where you collected it.
There are also Ford vans available at €10 per hour, and I found it very useful to take one when going to Ikea to collect furniture. It was a novelty driving a van.
That said, you would not use GoCars for long runs to the country or a whole day’s rental. The cost is on a sliding scale and becomes expensive for longer runs.
For weekends I discovered that car hire firms offer two- and three-day weekend rates for as little as €17 per day from Friday to Monday, and in many cases if you are near one of their bases they will collect you. I rented four times during the first quarter when I needed a car for longer journeys and errands.
My third alternative is my beloved Dublin Bike, perfect for getting around town and no parking worries. I have been using DBs since they began and the annual €25 is a worthwhile investment.
The last three months have been an interesting exercise in surviving without a car. Initially it looked like I could save a lot of money, but it did not turn out like that. Not if I wanted to continue the same lifestyle. GoCars are more expensive than you think they will be, time disappears and you find yourself extending your trips. Traffic also affects what you do, and so does looking for parking.
There is competition for GoCar now with Yukõ by Toyota, a similar car-sharing service, though owned by the motor manufacturer. I recently spotted my first Yukõ hybrid on a street near my house; they will probably appear near the current GoCars. The joining fee is €50, with €6 per month fee and €2 per 15 minutes' usage. Tax, insurance and parking is also free. GoCar have reduced the annual fee to €10 at present and are giving 50 free kilometres for new joiners in light of the competition.
At the end of the first three months car-free, there is not as much of a difference between owning a car and using the alternatives as I would have thought. According to the AA the costs of operating and running my car would be €2,500 per annum, so my average of 2,000km a quarter would be €625, and the alternative costs were €472.65 for the first three months, an annual saving of around €700. Usage will always dictate how much the costs are, so I do have control on what I spend. I miss most the convenience of having a car outside the door, but the alternatives are less than two minutes away and there’s a lot less administration.