Nick (gagravarr) wrote,

Streetcar - first experiences

A bit over a month ago, the friend who was letting me borrow their parking space moved out of Oxford, and the cost of renting a space was a bit insane given how little I drive at the moment. So, I sadly sold my car (it's found a good new home down in Devon!), and I decided to get by with just renting cars as needed.

(I had been hoping that CommonWheels would be able to get a space near me, and either adopt my car or get a new one to go there, but alas they couldn't get the council to give them a parking space)

CommonWheels don't have any cars near me, but Streetcar have 3 within a 10 minute walk of my flat, so that seemed a good bet for getting a car when I needed one, especially as they offer rentals as short as an hour, and have a nifty online booking system. I managed to find a signup voucher with £40 of credit (no longer available sadly, but this link will get you £20), and I figured that the £40 of credit would help offset the ~£60 signup fee for the year.

As they said it might take a few days for the license check, I signed up just after selling the car, as I figured I should probably try to be organised and get it all sorted before I actually wanted to book something. As it turned out, the license check was completed very quickly (a quick conference call with streetcar and the DVLA and it was sorted), so I was actually good to go sooner than expected. This did present a slight snag, as the £40 "welcome credit" I'd got turned out to only be valid for 30 days, and not for the year as I'd expected... Luckily the streetcar team are nice and friendly, so when I emailed them about this they extended the validity of the welcome credit by a few more weeks, so it was still valid when I came to want to use the car for the first time.

A little over a month after signing up, I finally had a spare weekend with a vague excuse to do something needing a car, so I booked the nearest car to me for as long as my welcome credit would allow. The car nearest to me is one of their swisher cars, a BMW, so I only got 9.30am - 3pm for my credit, rather than until 4pm if I'd gone for the Golf that's a few minutes further away. Still, I figured a BMW might be fun to drive, and it's nearer! I booked the car online, confirmed with my friends when I'd pick them up, got a friendly confirmation text and read their helpful instructions online about the car.

Roll on to this morning, and it was time to give it a whirl. I got to the car just after half 9, eventually found it (not in it's space as the booking said, but not too far away), figured out where to wave my streetcard to open it (magic box on the dashboard), and unlocked the car. In the glove box was the magic widget as expected, I tapped in my pin and it gave me the keys. Then it was onto the first challenge, checking for damage.

When I do a normal hire car, they normally have a sheet with all the existing damage marked on it (certainly with Hertz, less so with some of the others). It's then a quick walk around the car checking that everything's on there, then you're away. With Streetcar it's not so simple. In the instruction booklet is the damage log, but each bit of damage has it's own entry, and for this car the damage log went over about 5 pages. So, as I walked round the car, at each thing I spotted I had to check each (small) entry over many pages to see if it was mentioned, then move onto the next scratch and start again. It was really rather tedious to not have a summary, but have to check each thing in turn. Then the bad news, there were a couple of scratches not in the log. This meant a call to Streetcar to let them know, on their 0845 number (so instead of the call being free with inclusive minutes, I had to pay 35p/minute to call them, grr...). The call to let them know about the damage was fairly quick, but did have a rather long recorded message first, and as well as getting a damage reference for the log book I was also able to alert them to the fact that the car hadn't been left very clean inside as it was supposed to be. Having written the details in the log, I could finally hop in, adjust the mirrors and be off. I'd say the process took about twice as long from arriving to driving off as it's taken me the last few times I've got a car from Hertz, which is a bit pesky.

The car itself was fine, nice to drive, and after picking up my friends and running some errands we headed south to visit a National Trust property (Basildon Park near Reading, worth a visit!). Around 2pm we headed back, figuring an hour should be fine.

One of the conditions of hiring a streetcar, along with not leaving it a mess, is that you need to return it with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel. The car had only just had over a quarter of a tank when I collected it, which meant I was the one standing when the music stopped. The cars all come with a fuel card, so all you need to do is swing by a petrol station, fill it up, charge it to the fuel card and you're away. Not too bad, but it does take a bit of time to do, or slightly longer if you're like me and tried to go to a petrol station that wasn't where I thought it was, doh! This meant I was cutting it a bit fine to return the car for 3pm after all, so we tried texting (my passenger rather than me I should add!) to try to extend the booking by 30 minutes. A rather nifty feature I must say, just a shame someone else had booked it for 3pm... At 2.58 when we were still a few minutes off making it to the carpark we rung up to say we'd be late, and were told that they'd let the next person know but we had a few minutes grace. On returning to the carpark at about 3.03 we found someone else had parked in the streetcar space (it has a sign and everything!), so we had to find another space and ring customer services once again to let them know where the car was. Just as we were leaving the carpark we spotted the next people getting to the car, sorry for making you a minute or two late whoever you were...!

Finally at home I checked my account to see the cost. As we'd driven to near Reading and back, we'd clocked up 61 miles, of which only 20 were included in the hire. That means there was an extra charge of £9.43 (it's 23p/mile, as shown on their pricing page). Having filled the tank up I know that's more than the cost of the diesel, but not too much more and they've a business to run. I'd also got a £3.62 "Unauthorized Extension" charge, I guess for being a few minutes late. Total cost was £52.93, or £12.93 after the credit. If I'd gone for the VW Polo that's a 10 minute walk from my flat (rather than the BMW at 5 minutes), it would only have been £41.81 for the 5.5 hours.

Out of interest, I checked with Hertz about how much it'd cost to hire from them. They're just over a 10 minute walk from my flat (just past the Streetcar VW Polo), so if I was to go for the cheapest streetcar they're probably a fair comparison. On a weekend, they're only open on Saturday mornings, so not as convenient. However, to hire a car slightly bigger than a VW Polo from Saturday morning to Monday morning, their website quoted me £43.60 (plus any petrol used). For the same journey I'd just done, that would mean a cost of about £50, but instead of only having the car for 5.5 hours, I'd not have had to worry about being late back, and I'd have the car for all of tomorrow too. Streetcar want £105 for to have their polo for an equivalent 48 hours, that's with 40 miles included, which seems rather bad value. In the week Hertz are open a lot more, and they only want £22.40 for a 24 hour hire (plus petrol). Add in a bit of fuel, and any hire over about 3 hours looks to be cheaper to go with Hertz, which was a surprise to discover. That's not even taking account of the £60/year Streetcar fee.

Overall, the process with Streetcar was ok, but averages out not quite as quick and easy as Hertz, but certainly better than other car hire places I've used. Cost wise, if you just want a car for an hour or two, it's handy and (fairly) quick and better value than a taxi. For me though, any hire over a few hours and I'm better off just going with Hertz for the day, as long as I'm not doing a last minute night or Sunday booking. It's a bit disappointing to discover this, but at least now I know. I'm sure I'll be using my Streetcar membership a lot more this coming year, just only for short trips or last minute things, otherwise you'll find me heading to Hertz for a longer hire, or on the train!
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