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streetcar.co.uk

November 25, 2009

streetcarI took my inaugural trip with streetcar yesterday. I had a train ride to Swindon planned to watch Huddersfield vs Swindon but the journey back promised to be a long, miserable, late one, so at the last minute I decided to give Streetcar a go. I’d been eyeing it up for a while, but always opted to hire a car from the National Car Hire at the end of the road, who I really like and who have always given me good service. There’s a work event in a couple of weeks time when I need a car for a few hours on a Saturday, rather than the full weekend which would be the minimum rental from a car hire firm, so I figured I could use this trip to Swindon as a dry run.

Streetcar is a UK pay-as-you-go car club which has been operating since 2004. They have about ten cars within reasonable walking distance from here. The membership fee is about £50, but I went for the £90 2-year option. I started the sign-in process online, and then someone from Streetcar called me to go through the details. Very personable, they were, too, which really matters. They conference called me with the DVLA to check my license, which is a tad strange but seemed to work smoothly. They took my money and gave me a brief overview of the practical side of using their service, eg how to book a car.

The online process for booking a car is easy enough. I inputed my dates, selected the times I required from the cars that were available, worked out how much it was going to cost me, which relies on how long I need the car for and the projected mileage, and then pressed Book. They have my credit details, so I didn’t have to go through a financial transaction to complete the process. The cost includes 30 free miles and coverage of the congestion charge, if that applies.

My swipecard won’t arrive for a couple of days, so when I went to pick up the car, (with a box of Scaremonger CDs for Martin ‘Guitarmonger’ Malone, with whom I was going to watch the game) I was supposed to call them to open the car for me. Unfortunately, I had the wrong number with me, which was my fault, not theirs, (though it could be a tad clearer on the website). I had to schlep home and log on again to pick up the right number, which meant I was at least half an hour late setting off. When I finally got through, again the person I spoke to was personable and amenable. She talked me through dealing with the onboard computer and what to do at the start and the end of the booking, made sure I was OK and then left me to it.

The onboard computer has an attached RFID reader for the swipe card, which sits tucked away inside the bottom-most corner of the windscreen. As I didn’t have a swipecard, I didn’t have to deal with the reader – I think I’m going to enjoy opening the doors with it on my next booking. The computer looks like the contraption conductors use on trains to dispense tickets, and houses the car key and the fuel card. The fuel is paid for by Streetcar with the cost for any extra mileage docked from your credit card. The computer has GPS, so its position can be tracked from Streetcar’s HQ.

The car was a well-maintained silver Golf. It had a couple of small dints/scratches, but overall it was very presentable, and very drivable. It was weird picking it up from the forecourt of a small housing estate, hovering around a car in the dark as I spoke furtively with the people at Streetcar, but I guess the person donating their parking space has sorted it out with their neighbours, so having strangers lurking around their space is something they are prepared to put up with.

Overall, my experience with Streetcar was excellent. I have a couple of other bookings lined up – one short one, one that spans several days – so by the time Christmas comes I’ll have a better feel for how the service works and whether it works for me. So far, a big thumbs up!

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