Tuesday, 15 September 2015

E-car scheme means I can cycle to work more often.

The NHS trust I work for has recently signed up to an E-car scheme and has six vehicles based at three sites around the county. The logic of this move is simple. They pay those of us with community based jobs a mileage allowance and in line with all things austerity, reducing costs is the name of the game. We sign up for free and then can book the cars for free mon-fri 9-5. We can still use them outside of that time but it's £5.50 an hour to do that. Other scheme members not employed by my Trust can also book the cars outside of that time which I guess is the incentive for the Ecar company to make these partnerships.

For me this scheme is genius. I'm based in Kettering but could need to go anywhere in the county in my working day. This meant I could only really bike to work on days when I'm staying in one location. Now I can book an Ecar bike to Kettering and bike home as well as getting around the county in good time. Obviously I lose my mileage allowance but the truth is that barely covers petrol now so it isn't a loss in real terms.

The process of signing up was really simple. I had to fill out a form and then the Ecar company called me. We then had a bizarre three way conversation with the DVLA and that was it. My card to use the car arrived the next day.

So yesterday I cycled to Kettering. All days that start with a bike ride are good days! I'd booked the car the day before as I was based in Northampton for most of the day. A quick change and it was time to give an Ecar a go. 

I was quite excited which probably led to my first error. After spending ages holding my card over the locking system I rang the helpline because the car wouldn't unlock. Almost as soon as the nice man answered I realised: "hang on this is the Nissan Leaf, I've booked the Renault Zoe!" Anyway they like to talk you through the first use so no harm done. There's a bit of a complicated procedure involving unlocking the key card with your pin and releasing the charge point, unplugging it all etc so being talked through it was helpful. All sorted though I started the card up and was a bit surprised to see the car that was plugged in all night on 59% charge. Still it had over 50 miles range with that and I only needed 33. More on that later.

Driving the car is weird at first but so simple you stop noticing. They don't make any noise! You really don't trust the engine is running until the car moves. Then it's frankly like a go kart. There's no gears and more than that it's even less complicated than a standard automatic. It's quite nippy around town but is limited to 60mph meaning I missed my 2.0 litre 16v a bit on dual carriageways. It's comfy to drive though and has good features like a reversing camera, air con, automatic wipers and lights. The car recharges itself a bit whilst your moving and a dashboard graphic shows power going back in if you take your foot off the accelator. The child in me enjoyed the challenge of trying to get the battery and mileage range to increase!

On my return to Kettering I had to use the helpline again as the car refused to start charging. This took a good ten minutes to resolve and it was just repeating my previous steps. I think it will be easier next time but it's not just plug it in, lock and leave. I also wondered at that point if the previous user had the same issues because that would explain the car not being fully charged (it only takes half an hour from the dedicated charge points.)

Then I got to bike home. Bonus! This really does feel like the future for me. I bike to work, saving money and cycling more. The trust pays less for me to do my job. The environment benefits too (although I'm not naive, I understand that the electricity also has a carbon footprint.)

I'm definitely going to continue to use the Ecar scheme. I hope loads of people don't join me though because the only downside I can see is there might not always be a car available. Then again the trust could always expand the fleet!

Happy Pedaling

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