Car Sharing: Real World Test
26 June 2017
Car sharing isn't a new concept for fleets. Far from it. Pool cars have long been used in businesses as a way for employees to travel intermittent business miles and between sites.
It's not a replacement for the traditional company car, but car sharing can be a cost-effective and viable alternative to pool cars and grey fleet or as a mode of transport for those non-perk drivers who may sit on the fringes in terms of mileage on whether or not they need a company car.
Car-sharing schemes like AlphaCity can remove some of the administrative burden, create an easy solution for drivers to use, help improve parking limitations at the office and enable fleet managers to easily monitor and report the performance and usage of a particular vehicle - and the popularity of schemes like this are growing. Last year, one million miles were completed on AlphaCity vehicles with an average of 34 users per vehicle.
We wanted to find out first-hand what it's like to use car sharing as a transport solution, so took delivery of an AlphaCity BMW i3 to share around the BusinessCar team.
Booking and getting started
Once you've decided to go down the AlphaCity route, it takes around 10 days to have the system fully set up and ready to use. You pay a monthly rental for the vehicle, which can then be paid for by setting up hourly and daily rates for either drivers to pay or to recharge internal cost centres when using the car.
Every user is allocated a card and needs to set up an account online. It's a simple and easy process where you'll also set up a unique four-digit passcode, which is needed when using the vehicle. Once the account is set up and your drivers are ready to start booking they are presented with an easy-to-use online form, not too dissimilar to how some systems help you book, say, a meeting room. You can book for just half an hour or up to a number of days if needed and will be asked to fill in fields about the purpose of the business trip, making it easier for the fleet manager when going through the paperwork.
Small criticisms include the form not currently presenting itself well on a mobile interface while the drag function for booking is not so easily used either. However, you can use the drop-down functions instead, and once booked, drivers will be sent an email and a text message confirming the booking and other drivers will not be able reserve the vehicle.
Fleet managers can set limitations here, like time frames when the vehicles can be used and can also geofence the car to a location to make sure the rental doesn't end until the car arrives back at the specified location.
Hitting the road
We found using the card to access the vehicle really simple, although not having a physical key can be hard to get used to at first. Hold the card over the AlphaCity sensor on the windscreen and the light will go green, giving the driver access.
Once inside the driver is presented with a welcome screen and a couple of easy questions to answer - about the condition of the vehicle and whether or not there is damage - before being able to start the vehicle. Because we were driving a BMW i3, we also got a couple of additional helpful hints, such as how to turn on the electric car, plus a couple of warnings about the instant torque on offer, the need for observation, and how the car drives.
AlphaCity offers one-on-one training for the drivers and fleet manager and have found that often receptionists in the business are the best people to be trained, as they'll usually be the first port of call if drivers experience any problems.
Our test has thrown up a couple of issues, though. For one, once you've gained access to the vehicle it can sometimes take a while for the welcome screen to appear, and you cannot access air-con until you've completed all the steps - not exactly ideal on a hot day. Asking if the vehicle is damaged is a good question and will help to determine who has caused it.
The only issue here is that it places the responsibility on the driver to pick up on it and flag it up at the start of each rental. Imagine if it is raining outside or the driver is running late - will they perform a walkaround in the same way a fleet manager or facilities manager would?
Running late? Expect a text from AlphaCity wondering where you are, and if you are later than 30 minutes the booking will be cancelled - this timeframe can be amended by the fleet manager, though. If you've not returned the vehicle in time, again AlphaCity will text to remind you that you need to return the car and include a number to call to extend the booking.
We called the customer service centre twice during our test and found the service excellent overall. On one occasion they needed to access the car to perform a reset - mainly our fault because we had been very late to the booking and it had already been cancelled once.
Fleet managers will receive a number of reports each month including a Utilisation report, a call log that records the calls made to the customer service line, and a Vehicle Condition report. These enable fleet managers to spot trends and pinpoint any drivers who may be leaving the vehicle in a dirty condition and, in the case of our i3, not leaving sufficient enough charge in the car for the next user.
The Utilisation report is particularly useful as it details each vehicle's usage, including a percentage figure of how much it could have been used throughout the month, the number of cancellations made, hours driven and the total bookings over the month, with more detail available on each booking such as times, reasons for the bookings and who cancelled the bookings.
As is the case for many fleets, the cost of running a car-sharing scheme will be a key factor on whether or not it gets introduced. Understanding fleet requirements is essential here. If you can identify which areas of the business will benefit from a car-sharing scheme and how many vehicles may be needed, it can offer a great solution.
An area where car sharing can deliver a key cost benefit is around avoiding paying for mileage claims, especially AMAP payments, and there cannot be discrepancies with the miles driven either as most vehicles will offer tracking and will report on where that vehicle has been driven. With the case of the i3, if the company has a charging point installed and the vehicle is not allowed to be taken home, this eradicates this cost completely.
Admittedly, our test car was the range-extender version, so comes with a small petrol engine, but most drivers should never need to use more than the electric range when fully charged. Administratively, a lot of the paperwork is taken care of by Alphabet and is done so in an easy-to-understand and detailed way. Once set up, it's important to make sure that employees are utilising the vehicles as much as possible and only booking time slots when the car will actually be used.
Our time with the AlphaCity car was overall a very positive one. We were all surprised at how easy the system was to use on a day-to-day basis, and the reporting is detailed and easy to navigate around when looking for trends and anomalies.
If you're a company looking to reduce the cost of your grey fleet, Alphabet offers an effective and easy car-sharing solution, which we think businesses should be considering. Just make sure the drivers are properly educated on how to use the system and also incentivised to check the vehicles thoroughly and report any issues before every rental.