Wednesday 17 October 2018

Reinventing everything, except the wheel

Colm Brady heads up Ireland's only car sharing business, GoCar. He tells Sean Gallagher how the very idea of car ownership has changed

Colm Brady of Go Car with Sean Gallagher. Photo: Tony Gavin
Colm Brady of Go Car with Sean Gallagher. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

The long-standing model of car ownership has always seemed fairly straightforward. You buy or lease a new or used car. You own it, tax it and insure it. You are responsible for servicing it, repairing it and making sure it remains roadworthy.

This has always been the most widely accepted form of car use - until now. A new phenomenon, known as car sharing, is shifting the goalposts.

Similar to the traditional car rental model, car sharing allows customers to rent a car for much shorter periods of time, often by the hour. It's a business model that is growing in popularity, especially among those who only use their car infrequently or are seeking to be more prudent with their disposable income.

In fact, according to leading consulting firm Navigant, global car sharing services revenue is set to grow to $6.2bn by 2020, by which time it is expected that there will be as many as 12 million registered car sharing members worldwide.

So last week I went to the offices of GoCar, a car sharing company based in Santry, to meet Colm Brady, the company's managing director.

"GoCar is Ireland's first car sharing service," explains Colm. "We currently operate in Dublin and have 145 vehicles to choose from - 137 cars and eight vans.

"Business is growing steadily. Our customers are typically aged between 25 and 35 and generally rent vehicles for between one to three hours. We have also seen an increase in the number of families using GoCar to replace the family's second car that would normally sit unused for most of the week. We have one woman who books the car for an hour every weekday in order to collect her children from school. She doesn't really use a car outside of these times, so she doesn't see the need to burden herself with the costs of buying and keeping a car that ends up parked in her drive for over 90pc of the time," he adds.

Thinking about the rising levels of traffic congestion, the challenge of finding parking in the city and the ever-increasing costs of personal vehicle ownership, it's easy to see why this idea is catching on. Given the pressures on our infrastructure, car sharing looks like becoming part of the debate around the sustainability of our future urban centres.

"It has taken some time for the idea to sink in here in Ireland because of our unique mindset about ownership compared to other countries," says Colm. "As a nation we love to own stuff - and that goes for cars as well as property.

"Changing this mindset has definitely been our greatest challenge so far. But thankfully we are making steady progress in this regard. Members now see that we can provide a car at the end of their road or a van outside their place of work, which will be available for collection as and when they need it and without the financial burden or long-term commitment associated with having to own it," he adds.

While currently only available in Dublin City, the company has plans to expand into the suburbs in the near future, as well as into other cities across the country.

So how does it work?

"Those wishing to avail of the service join GoCar as a member. To take out membership, users have to be 21 years or older, have a full valid driving licence for two years or more and have a valid credit or debit card," explains Colm.

"Once signed up, a member gets an individual customer and PIN number, which they can use to book the time they wish to rent the car, as well as their preferred location and vehicle type, with reservations being made online or via our dedicated app 24/7.

"Members can rent a car or van for as little as an hour or as long as a week or even longer in special circumstances," he adds.

To explain further, Colm escorts me out to the forecourt of the company's offices, where a fleet of various types of cars and vans are neatly parked. All are low-emission vehicles. Members can choose from the GoCity range, which consists of a Ford Fiesta or Hyundai i20, the GoTripper range, which consists of a Ford Focus or Hyundai i30, and the GoVan range, which is made up of Ford Transit Connect vans. A new range is also due out soon, called GoExplore. This will include the more spacious Hyundai Tuscon, which Colm tells me will be ideal for family-type trips or longer journeys. Starting at €4.99 per hour for the GoCity and 45c per mile, it's easy to understand why this service is catching on.

Colm hands me a swipecard, and once I swipe this past the receiver on the car, the door opens automatically. A voice message in the car tells me the key is located in the glove compartment. Once I enter my unique PIN, the key is released from the keypad and I'm good to go.

"Easy as that," Colm says with a smile.

GoCar was initially set up as a pilot project in Cork in late 2008 with the support of Cork City Council.

"The Council even gave GoCar the use of three dedicated car parking locations in the city as part of the scheme, something that was pretty visionary at the time," insists Colm. "It was taken over for a while by a group of investors and later bought in 2012 by the current owners, Colm Menton and Eugene O'Reilly.

"Colm is a serial entrepreneur and part-owner of the Europcar rental business, while Eugene is well known as the Hyundai distributor for Ireland. With their knowledge of the transport sector, they both realised the potential of car sharing and were aware that there was a growing international trend towards car sharing," he adds.

Colm Brady himself is originally from Malahide. After school, he studied accountancy in Griffith College before getting a job in an auto parts distribution company. From there, he joined a specialist business consulting firm where he was focused on installing complex IT management systems.

A chance meeting with Colm Menton led to him being offered a job in his small but growing independent car rental business, Malone Car Rental. The company would later grow to become Europcar - and with 250 staff and a fleet of more than 6,500 cars it is now Ireland's third-largest car rental business. Colm eventually became the company's director of business development.

"In 2012, we began researching the possibility of starting a new business in the car sharing area and came across GoCar. The biggest challenge for the previous owners was in raising the capital needed to buy more cars. In Europcar, we had thousands of cars and a strong balance sheet - so it made sense for us to buy a business that was already up and running rather than start from scratch ourselves," he explains.

The company's big breakthrough came in late 2015, when the Government introduced new legislation to allow local authorities to designate spaces exclusively for car sharing purposes.

With Dublin City Council being the first to enact the legislation, GoCar could now move to places such as St Stephen's Green, Merrion Square, Lower Mount Street, Nassau Street, Mountjoy Square and Parnell Square, where the demand was high.

I ask Colm about the company's future.

"We are continuing to invest in technology and are now launching our new mobile booking app, which we believe will improve the overall customer experience by making it easier for members to find their nearest car locations as well as complete their booking and payment. In addition, we aim to double the size of our fleet, including the introduction of our first range of electric vehicles," explains Colm. "Our job now is to keep pace with our customers' ever-changing needs," he adds.

With increasing traffic congestion in our cities and the costs of owning your own car rising all the time, the concept of car sharing looks likely to become the new normal around the globe.

In Ireland, the initial vision of Cork City Council combined with the experience of a group of very smart entrepreneurs looks set to make it a reality here also.

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