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ON THE MONEY: Take a step back to take a dip in the pool

Date: 01 May 2008

Rupert Saunders

Once unloved, unused and undervalued, there are sound economic reasons why it's worth re-introducing the pool car, especially if you all-too readily turn to daily rental, writes Rupert Saunders

News that Streetcar, the car-sharing club, now has more than 30,000 members and is operating in six cities caused me to ponder the plight of the pool car.

Once the staple of any fleet, the pool car has largely been forgotten as a business tool - or at least remembered only as that unloved, dirty vehicle sitting unused in the corner of the office car park.

But, if 30,000 members of the public can learn the benefits of sharing their car with others, why can't this work in the business environment? Have we all become so wedded to the perks of personal transport that we are not even prepared to consider the idea?

According to Jon Walden, Lex MD: "We are seeing very few companies now running their own pool car fleet. The extra hassles involved in managing a group of cars that sometimes have two or three separate drivers per day is often too much and they are turning to daily rental instead."

However, there are sound economic reasons for pool cars, according to fleet consultant Colin Tourick. He told me: "Pool cars can give enormous cost savings. They are much better than giving people company cars where there is only a small element of business mileage and can work out cheaper than daily rental. Anybody who is using daily rental on a regular basis should be looking at pool cars."

Of course, the challenges of running pool cars still remain and, under current duty of care legislation, are more pressing than ever before. In short, pool cars need to be managed and kept fit for purpose. A recent check on more than 21,000 pool cars by the RAC revealed almost 8% failed to have correct fluid levels underneath the bonnet, 14% did not have the correct tyre tread or tyre pressure, and 19% did not have a full service history.

Adrian McCarthy, head of RAC vehicle inspections service, told me: "It's clear that pool cars are often neglected or badly-maintained.

"With growing concerns over duty of care, companies should look carefully at whether procedures and policies are in place to successfully run a fleet of pool cars and minimise the potential risk of prosecution."

But these are failings of management, rather than a failure in the concept of having cars available for short-term use by staff.

In these days of on-line diaries it is easy to manage a digital booking and reporting system with access limited to those staff who are approved pool car users. Of course, you are already checking driving licences of everybody driving on company business.

Smoking in company cars is illegal (removing one major cause of dirty cars) and a weekly valet with inspection for damage can be arranged through your local car cleaning company. Indeed, major fleet management firms including Inchcape and ALD offer a pool car service.

Finally, it is worth bearing in mind that the entry-level model in most typical pool car ranges is now more than adequate, comfortable transport. In short, the pool car need no longer be the Cinderella of the car park.

Streetcar says it should have 250,000 members by 2012. If it can manage it, why can't you?