Car Clubs and an Accident

Date February 13, 2010 | Map

Like many Central Londoners, I don’t have a car. Living in Zone 1 means that I can walk or cycle to most of my destinations, and when it is too far or too inconvenient, there is always public transport. So my Bankside parking lot, which I could claim without charge if I had a car, remains empty and unused, probably much to the dismay of car owners in the hunt of a temporary space for their car.


Zipcar, by Lars Ploughmann via

Sometimes, however, a car is rather convenient, as tube and busses are notoriously ill-suited for transporting heavy and bulky things, and even when you dare trying it, you will be limited to what you can carry with two hands (and a back). That is why I joined a car club about 15 months ago: shopping with a car is so much more fun, and you tend to part with much more money than you would if on public transport; not sure if this is good, though. But moving house almost leaves you no option other than a car, preferably a van, and preferably including at least one man. Today I was helping a friend move house and booked a van through my car club. No man included, so I am afraid I had to fill this role. Ah well.

Car clubs in London have come a long way. About two years ago, cars were only available in a few selected areas, whereas today, the situation has improved a lot. There are still not many providers, but four big guns and a few smallish clubs serve London tube zones 1 and 2 very well, and they seem to expand at a rapid pace. You can find the locations of cars from the big providers all on one website:

VW Caddy Maxi

VW Caddy Maxi, by Luftfahrt via Wikimedia

I am with Zipcar, purely for convenience, as my neighbourhood has a scheme exempting me from annual fees. So I only pay the actual rental fees, which from £4 an hour including petrol are more than fair. Today, though, Streetcar may have been more convenient, as they have more vans in their portfolio. Zipcar only has two at the moment, VW Caddy Maxi Panel Van in both cases, and thus I found myself in far away Paddington to pick up my minivan for the day.

Pity that my mobile phone’s battery was empty! Otherwise I would have called Zipcar, because the previous user has hardly left a single drop of petrol in the fuel tank, this bastard! Yes, if it’s you who had the car before 13 Feb, 9.30am, I mean you!! The rule is to leave at least a quarter (you don’t even have to pay for filling up), otherwise you may get penalised – if the next user tells, that is. I would have loved to, but alas, I couldn’t so I had to hunt for a filling station, which turned out to be slightly nightmarish…at the very last second, one at Battersea Park saved me.

Ikea Croydon

Ikea Croydon, by osde8info via

Anyways, another good thing about car clubs is that you book by the hour. In this case, though, I should have booked the van for the whole day. I totally underestimated the Saturday traffic in South London and virtually had no time to complete my own business at Ikea Croydon with its iconic chimneys. In the end, I just managed to return the van in time with two minutes to spare! The next customer was already waiting nervously on the sidewalk with a bucket and a broom.


So what about the accident, as promised in the heading?
Well, this was a curious case: as I was pulling out from Ikea into the main road, I gave way to a cyclist with a fully loaded bicycle: two big saddle bags, two front wheel bags and the man himself puffing on his way up the minor ascent. South London traffic meant that we stayed together for about three kilometres – until we were separated by the accident directly before my windscreen: in Norbury, a car was slowly nosing from Northborough Road into London Road in an attempt to turn right, thus stopping me on London Road, yet the cyclist tried to pass that car, the driver obviously did not see the cyclist at all, accelerated, and suddenly the cyclist was abruptly moved about 4-5 metres sideways!

All traffic brought to a standstill, two or three drivers, including myself, rushed out of their cars to offer help, but the cyclist was already on his feet, virtually ignoring all helping hands. Luckily, he was fine, his front wheel, though, was badly twisted and definitely beyond repair. After moving the bike and bits of equipment out of the way, ensuring that the cyclist was fine and putting myself forward as a witness, I released the growing queue behind my van and continued my journey home.

Only later I found out that this cyclist was in fact not any touring cyclist, but David Payne on his one-week trip from Paris to London in support of leukaemia research! His blog refers to the incident as a “minor accident”; it looked worse as it happened, but I am glad David was able to take it lightly. Consider a donation for this man and his charity bike ride.

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