<i>Illustration: John Shakespeare</i>

Driving seat … car-sharing schemes offer hourly and daily rates. Illustration: John Shakespeare

Joyce Watts once relied heavily on a car to get around her home town of Brisbane. But after a stint in London, where car-sharing was taking off, the cycling enthusiast and Melbourne resident found joining a car-sharing scheme a no-brainer.

As a member of Flexicar, Melbourne's largest car-sharing scheme, she pays $25 a month to use a car for two hours, occasionally switching to $150 a month when she's hitting the markets for her cycle clothing business, CycleStyle.

Even with a toddler in tow and another baby on the way, 33-year-old Watts and her husband, Tim, see no reason to invest in some wheels. ''It would just be sitting there chewing up cash,'' she says, although she admits they may review their decision when they are a family of four.

A research assistant at the Healthy Built Environments Program at UNSW, Jennifer Kent, says ''increased environmental awareness, a desire to avoid the stress of city traffic and parking, and the need to reduce discretionary spending'' are pointing people towards car-sharing.

Australia's two largest schemes have a combined membership of about 23,500, and their numbers are likely to increase. The City of Sydney wants to see 10 per cent of resident households in car-sharing schemes by 2016, up from 6.4 per cent - or 6200 households - in May 2012.

So would car-sharing work for you?

Operators such as GoGet, GreenShareCar, Flexicar, or its sister company Hertz on Demand in Sydney, say it makes most financial sense for people driving less than 15,000 kilometres a year.

The RACV's latest data on the cost of financing, insuring and maintaining a car estimates a Toyota Yaris driven 15,000 kilometres annually costs $132.89 a week and a Toyota Kluger costs $257.34 a week.

Tristan Sender, the chief executive of GoGet, Australia's largest car-sharing scheme, says its members spend $100 a month on average on car-sharing, with about 62 per cent of members deferring the purchase of a car since joining.

Vehicles are accessed from designated parking spots via smart-card technology and bookings can range from one hour to several days. All cover the cost of fuel, insurance and maintenance, and have a range of pricing options that include hourly and daily rates.

The chief executive of Flexicar, Greg Giraud, says if you plan a weekend away or if you are going to use the car weekly, ''then it's in your interests to go on a plan'' because you get cheaper rates.

GreenShareCar charges casual users $14.95 an hour or $79 a day, whereas GoGet members on its $29 a month plan pay $5.65 an hour or $68 a day. Other factors, such as reducing the standard insurance excess of $1500, can add dollars to the rates. GoGet's premium vehicles, including Alfas and vans, cost an extra $2 an hour.

It's relatively easy to switch plans, but it is worth checking the operator's policy on rolling over unused credit, and whether billing is in hourly or half-hourly increments.

The cost can rise if you clock up kilometres. Flexicar's two highest plans provide 150 kilometres free, with excess kilometres charged at 15¢, while GoGet charges 40¢ a kilometre on hourly bookings but includes 150 kilometres free, with excess kilometres charged at 25¢ on daily bookings. Hertz on Demand provides 15 kilometres free, then charges 30¢ a kilometre.

There can be additional fees to join, and penalties for late return and leaving possessions in the vehicle. GoGet's highest plan has a $25 joining fee, a refundable $500 deposit, and monthly fees of $29.

But as Potts Point resident Mike Stuart discovered, getting value from a car-sharing scheme ultimately depends on accessibility (see left).

In Melbourne, Flexicar has 120 locations, GoGet has 100, and GreenShareCar has 37. In Sydney, GoGet has 900 locations, Hertz on Demand has 30, and GreenShareCar has 50. All schemes are adding to their locations, and frequent travellers should check their links in other Australian capitals or globally.

Looking ahead, competition is likely to focus on technology and developments such as one-way trips, as well as pricing and location.

The Sydney manager of Hertz on Demand, Matthew Barker, says his company allows one-way trips in New York and hopes to introduce them in Sydney within 18 months.

Key points

❏ Australia's two largest schemes have a combined membership of about 23,500.

❏ In 2012, 6.4 per cent of City of Sydney households - about 6200 - made regular use of car-sharing schemes.

❏ Operators say the schemes make the most financial sense for people who drive less than 15,000 kilometres a year.

❏ People join to reduce discretionary spending and to avoid city traffic and parking, academics say.

❏ GoGet, Australia's biggest scheme, says its members spend about $100 a month.

❏ Casual rates with one operator, GreenShareCar, are $14.95 an hour or $79 a day.

❏ Users should look out for excess-kilometre charges.

Mixing transport puts a lid on costs

The first time Mike Stuart tried to pick up a car-share vehicle near his Potts Point home, a flat battery meant he couldn't even unlock it. Fortunately, there were several other GoGet cars nearby and he was shortly on his way.

''It was all sorted within minutes,'' says the 27-year-old chef, who pays about $145 every six months to belong to the scheme.

Originally from England, Stuart hasn't owned a car since moving to Sydney more than three years ago. Instead, he walks to work, cycles, and only pays the $70 to use a car for a day when he visits family.

A GoGet van proved a handy way to move in July, but when he and his girlfriend took a four-day trip to Port Stephens, he decided a traditional car rental was the better deal.