Car pooling, car sharing, car swapping and other forms of non-monogamous car love

So winter is here. As I type, hail is battering the windows and piling up in crunchy drifts outside. It feels like it’s been raining for weeks, and the ground is so saturated it pools water around our boots, and makes sodden squelching kisses when we move. I’ve been walking out in the dank sog with the little girl everyday, which actually hasn’t been too unpleasant, in fact in between showers it is beautiful, with the scent of wood smoke, the last leaves, coloured flags tumbling down the teeming gutters and the clouds so low over the hills that they cascade down the valleys like smoke and you feel like you could reach up and touch them. But there are a few errands accumulating that are going to need a car. So I thought I’d look into the options available to us here in New Zealand.

Car sharing

Here I’m talking about organisations that offer car sharing. The key ways in which car share companies differ from more conventional car hire companies is that they tend to have multiple pick up/drop off points in urban locations, and you can hire the car for as little as an hour. In a fully realised incarnation, with widely located depots, a good car share company offers pretty much the same flexibility as owning your own car, for far less money. Obviously you have to be a little more organised and save up your errands to do all at once, and you have to go pick up the car, but it’s still pretty damn handy.

Sadly, to date, New Zealand is served poorly in this way.  I am aware only of one car share company in the country, Cityhop and they have only one depot in Chistchurch, out by the airport (which is miles from Lyttelton, so of no use to us at present). However cityhop seem to have big plans, and their founder Victoria Carter runs a blog on the cityhop site, which offers inspiration on sustainable living, as well as updates on the progress of the cityhop network.

Victoria writes in a recent post “Most car share cars around the world are low energy fuel efficient vehicles that can be used by sometimes more than 7 different people in one day. Every car share vehicle is reported to take 20 privately owned cars off the road so that is a lot of energy being saved.”

Those are some pretty impressive claims right there. We await eagerly a central Christchurch cityhop pick up point.


This is an arrangement where several passengers share a car trip and also share the cost of that trip. This isn’t so handy for running errands, as you are dependent on someone else’s schedule and plans, but it’s great for commuting to and from work and could be used equally well for a weekly grocery shop, or similar.

You can set up your own carpool with your friends, or if you are lucky to live in a close community like Lyttelton, you can ask for help through the Time Bank or the weekly community newsletters; but if neither of these options is open to you there are also some more formal organisations that exist to make car pooling easier. If you Google “car pooling in NZ” several options come up.  Jayride is the most polished of the set ups, with a good user friendly interface. Gum Tree particularly caters to backpackers, but could be handy if you are planning a longer trip between cities. Here in Lyttelton we have our own dedicated carpooling forum Lyttelrides. I have to note though that all the carpooling organisations I checked out were quiet, with few offers of rides. Gum Tree was the most active, but that’s probably because there is a strong tradition in the backpacker culture of sharing rides. I’d like to think that the other sites were quiet because everyone is furiously carpooling independently among their friends. However, I suspect that the truth is really that not many people are car pooling. That’s a pity, because it’s a great way to cut costs, go a bit easier on the environment, make new friends and help people out by sharing the burden of personal transport.

In 2009, Auckland held its first carpool day in an attempt to get people to have a go at car pooling, which is a particularly smart idea in slow moving, car congested Auckland. The event website has some great advice for wannabe carpoolers.

Co-owning a car with friends

One thing we’ve considered is co-owning a car with some friends. We have a number of friends in the area who aren’t heavy car users and we could see this working quite nicely. It has obvious benefits in terms of cost and environmental impact. It would be more local than a car share depot, and more flexible than a carpooling arrangement.

More than one family putting money into the pot could also mean that we could afford to buy a more environmentally friendly (but more expensive) car.  We’d have to find some sensible way of sharing the car, which was organised, permanently accessible and didn’t involve one person doing a whole heap of admin.

It’s all good food for thought, but not a lot of people seem to be doing this, as I found out when I tried to research the topic further. I’d love to hear from any people that are doing this already or are planning to do this. From our personal perspective, we want to try and be completely car free for a while and re-boot our car using habits, before we embark on purchasing another vehicle, whether alone, or with others.