As the fuel light flickers on we have to face the fact that we can no longer drive past the filling station safe in the knowledge that our wallets can stay firmly closed. The time has come to pour what might as well be smelted gold into our tanks and eek it out for another few journeys until we return for another three minutes of agony. I can now feel you, dear readers, squirming with the agony of discussing fuel prices and reaching for your mouse to move the next story. But perhaps we could ponder the question: “Is there another way?”
According to the Department of Transport 64% of all UK journeys are taken by car and of those 86% are people travelling alone. The potential impact on the environment is an issue constantly batted around and with all this CO2 being pumped into our beautiful Norfolk skies, no wonder. But the financial burden of daily commutes and parking costs is one that erodes our bank balances quicker than a teenager in Top Shop.
Ali Clabburn, who founded Norwich-based Liftshare.com in 1998 and is the pioneer of the UK’s sharing economy, believes we should look to countries such as Germany, where culturally, sharing car journeys (and therefore their ever-increasing costs) on daily commutes is the norm:
“As collaborative consumption becomes increasingly mainstream many young Germans are starting to see vehicle ownership as inconvenient and old-fashioned” he says. “They recognise that by networking online they can find people who are going their way and collectively save hundreds of thousands of pounds every day.”
Ali believes that using the power of technology adult society can build up trust between strangers. 15 years ago this attitude would have been progressive-thinking at best – especially since effective online databases were futuristic - but today it’s almost impossible to find a singleton who hasn’t tried internet dating or a business professional who doesn’t consider LinkedIn a valuable networking tool.
Sharing is becoming easier and easier as the sharing economy becomes mainstream. Airbnb, which was established in 2008, has enabled over 600 million connections worldwide of people wanting to capitalise on unused space in their home, such as a spare room or annex – their idea is marketed as “a unique travel experience”. So instead of booking into a pricy hotel, travellers of all ages and on all budgets can find a bed for the night, with the added bonus that they might meet interesting people and get inside information on their destination.
Thomas Elmitt, who signed up to Liftshare.com to help with his daily commute has seen the benefits on a number of levels:
“Lift-sharing saves me over 450 hours and £1,800 annually. On top of this, my lift sharing buddy and I are now good friends; his wife did the flowers at my wedding and my wife and I have baby-sat their kids.”
Ali anticipates that existing generations will discover the benefits of sharing and change embedded behaviours, but that for future generations sharing will be seen as the norm: “Our grandchildren will poke fun at our travel habits – fuel costs will continue to rise so we’re already seeing a big trend towards people finding more efficient ways of getting from A to B.”
Established schemes such as Liftshare.com have huge member numbers (370,000 in their case) so the likelihood of finding a match is high. The sharing economy is just the first step in creating a more efficient, cooperative system of exchange…and as we at least halve our travel costs, might make trips to the petrol station a little more bearable.