As I don't drive to work, or particularly regularly for anything else, I recently decided to scrap my ageing Peugeot 106 and try not owning a car once again.
For the occasional longer trip, hiring a car in the traditional way should be no problem (and my maths says it works out more economical to do this for 10 weekends a year rather than own a car), but this leaves a gap. What if I just want a car for an hour to do a supermarket run, or take some crap to the tip?
There are at least a couple of car-sharing companies which aim to plug this gap by parking cars at strategic points which can be rented by the hour. CommonWheels seems to have good coverage of Oxford except for the bits I live and work in, which left me with ZipCar.
It works pretty well. I can fire up their app on my phone (it's a bit slow, but no doubt it will improve), say where I am, pick a time slot and see which cars are available. Then I can book one on the spot.
The feature which allows you to open the cars with your phone isn't NFC-based (just as well for those of us without NFC phones) - it presumably relies on an internet connection, and it asks you to re-enter your password to unlock the car - tedious when it's raining and you're holding an umbrella in one hand and the phone in the other. Still, leaving aside this gimmick, holding the smart card they send you against the marked rectangle on the windscreen unlocks the car just fine.
The cars I've driven so far have been Vauxhall Corsas - somewhat under-powered and with rather feeble acceleration, but a lot nicer than my ancient pug. The only disconcerting thing is that they all have an auto-stop feature where the engine cuts out when you're stationary, in neutral and take your foot off the clutch. This made me think I'd stalled it at every junction until I realised what was happening - and there's an "Eco" button on the dash to turn this off if you don't want it.
What else? Filling up works well with their supplied fuel card, and because it's on them (you pay by the mile), there's no reason not to brim the tank each time. Every car has a 3.5mm audio lead to plug your phone/iPod into the stereo, and a micro-USB phone charger which should be handy for anyone who doesn't own an iPhone.
All in all, it works. And it's a lot cheaper than keeping my old wreck on the road. Let me know if you're considering ZipCar and we can both get some credit if I refer you.