Building our network of car clubs

Back in March we announced some significant funding to expand our network of community-owned electric car clubs across Wales.

Since then we’ve been laying the foundations of the expanded network, and this post goes into the details of what we’ve been up to. As a non-profit Community Benefit Society we want to be fully transparent about what we’re building and how, especially as the pace of progress can sometimes be frustrating.

 

Background

TrydaNi (which in Welsh means “Our electricity”) started life in 2019 with the goal of building a network of community-owned charge points. However, by 2022 it became clear that the barriers to achieving this vision were insurmountable, and in the meantime Wales’ charging infrastructure improved substantially (including a network of rapid chargers installed by Transport for Wales).

The team at TrydaNi realised that electric car-sharing clubs could provide large numbers of people access to cleaner vehicles, whilst at the same time taking cars off the road. By partnering with Community Energy Wales and a European transport technology cooperative (The Mobility Factory), the first car clubs were launched, using Lottery funding. For the first time, electric cars could be booked and unlocked with a cooperatively-owned mobile app.

By the beginning of 2023 TrydaNi started conversations with TripTo, a group of mid-Wales car clubs, one of which (Machynlleth) had been running since the 1990s. TripTo started working with TrydaNi in summer 2023, and the two organisations formally merged in March of this year.

 

The core team

With the help of the recently-secured Welsh Government funding, TrydaNi now has a core team of three people: 

I’m Jamie Andrews. I was a volunteer director at TripTo for three years before taking on the paid role as CEO of TrydaNi. I live in Machynlleth where we now have two electric vehicles and a charge point. I previously co-founded Loco2, a European rail website/app helping people book trains instead of planes. 

Andrew Capel set up Llani Car Club (in Llanidloes) in 2007 and worked tirelessly as it expanded to become TripTo so that other car clubs could benefit from the database and billing infrastructure he developed thanks to his background as a software developer. 

Cyrene Dominguez has been with TrydaNi from the start, working initially via community energy company, Gwent Energy. As well as designing and building this website, she has become an expert on charge point setup/software and now handles all the operational aspects of how members use the TMF system/app to book and use vehicles. 

 

Our experience so far

Between us we have now been working on car clubs (and low carbon transport more generally) for a long time and we want to bring this experience to bear as we prepare to scale up.

 

The mid-Wales clubs that Andrew and I have been working on under TripTo have a fairly basic setup: it’s still necessary to write the mileage in a book in the car, booking uses a basic online calendar, the keys are kept in a key safe and we have to chase members for payments each month. 

 

The existing TrydaNi clubs have a more modern tech setup (cars can be located, booked and unlocked with a mobile app) but there have been some inevitable teething problems during the beta testing phase, particularly when it comes to reliably installing the vehicle hardware that is required to communicate with the Mobility Factory app. 

 

Both setups currently include the role of a local coordinator who is on call to address any questions or issues members may have when using the vehicles. Sometimes this has worked well, but we’ve had a high turnover of coordinators due to the fact that the role only requires a few hours of work each month.

 

Our vision for the next stage

Although it is important to cater for all members of the community, including those without smartphones, the reality is that people now expect a smooth digital experience. We therefore want to ensure that the process of finding, joining or starting a car club locally is as simple as possible online. 

We are in the process of redeveloping our website, ensuring that it integrates seamlessly with the app, so new members can easily join and book vehicles. 

We have also been rethinking the coordinator role. Instead of recruiting external coordinators, we intend to offer members the opportunity to assist with coordination duties in exchange for driving credits (or the cash equivalent). 

This “member coordinator” approach is more in line with our grassroots community values. It will allow us to keep prices lower in the long-term and so we’re starting to test the idea now with some existing members. As part of this we’re testing using WhatsApp groups to facilitate effective communication. 

 

Pricing and charging

A key aspect of our long-term vision is that cars are powered by renewable energy generated here in Wales, delivering lower prices than electricity purchased from further afield. Our partnership with Community Energy Wales lays the foundations for this vision. 

In the short-term however it’s not practical to connect charge points to wind and solar farms, and in some cases it doesn’t make sense to install a charge point at all (for example if the car is located in a town’s central car park that already has multiple chargers). 

With our current pricing model we require our users to bring the car back with a full(ish) battery. This avoids the risk that a car has an empty battery at the beginning of a trip, but it involves more time/effort on the part of the member, and doesn’t allow us to take advantage of lower electricity prices available at the charge points we install.

We are therefore planning to introduce two different pricing models: one for clubs that have their own dedicated charge point (where a per mile fee will replace the need to bring the vehicle back with 80% battery) and another for clubs without a charge point (where only an hourly fee will apply but it will be necessary to bring the vehicle back with a fuller battery).

In addition to fees for hiring vehicles we are also intending to introduce a small monthly fee of £3 in order to ensure that members are serious about using the vehicle when they sign up (or are at least happy to support us in a modest way even if they don’t become regular users). 

We are confident that journeys under either pricing structure will be affordable and substantially cheaper than conventional car hire, all under a community ownership model that means savings are returned to the community. 

We’re continuing to review other aspects of our service in response to feedback from members:

  • Members will now receive a full refund for any unused time on their booking (previously this was only 80%) so that we’re not penalising members who bring the car back early
  • We’re adding the ability to book a “ghost car” so that members can indicate their need for a vehicle when an existing vehicle(s) is booked out. This helps us understand demand patterns in a local club so we know when it makes sense to add an additional vehicle to a club

 

We hope that the new website will do a good job of communicating exactly how the new service works, and hope to have it live within the next few weeks.

 

New cars and clubs

Soon we’ll be ready to expand to new towns across Wales. 

We already have a pipeline of 18 new communities interested in launching a club, and we’re starting to ask our founder members to confirm their commitment by signing up (we like to have a solid commitment from at least 20 potential members before deploying a vehicle).

We’re researching suitable cars now and we’ll soon be ready to start leasing additional vehicles from our finance partner, Robert Owen Community Banking Fund.

 

Get in touch!

We hope that this post has provided some useful insight into how we are building the TrydaNi car clubs service, and we’d love to hear from you with any questions or comments.