Fancy saving a bit of money on your commute? If so, this new wave of lift-sharing services could be right up your street.
A new type of carpooling service can help drivers cut their fuel bills by hundreds of pounds a year.
Sites such as Liftshare.com and BlaBlaCar.co.uk also have a lot to offer people who are trying to find a cheaper – and often more convenient – alternative to expensive and overcrowded train journeys.
'Cars practically empty'
These services match up drivers who are about to embark on a specific journey, or who use a certain route on a regular basis, with potential passengers who are looking for a ride to a particular destination.
The sites suggest how much money each passenger should contribute based on the distance travelled – this sum is intended to cover their share of fuel as well as wear and tear.
Trevor Smith, an IT systems engineer from Warrington in Cheshire, has been using BlaBlaCar for the past 18 months.
Trevor, 41, says: "I drive to London every week, and it always seemed ridiculous that 99% of the cars on the motorway only had one person in them.
10% of the price of a rail ticket
"Car sharing makes complete sense: I get some payback for my diesel bills, and my passengers get a cheaper trip."
The drive from Cheshire to London costs a typical passenger of his £15, Trevor says — which might be less than a tenth of the price of a peak rail ticket.
"Another advantage for passengers is that I offer a door-to-door service," he adds.
Many of his passengers are young people or students, Trevor says, but there are also a number of businessmen and professionals who use the service.
Meeting new people
"It’s not just down to the cost – it is also a more environmentally friendly way to travel."
Roger Burrows, a recruitment consultant from Chepstow in Wales, also drives to London for work at the start of each week and back again on Fridays.
He uses Liftshare to advertise his route to potential travelling companions.
"A friend of mine recommended it," says Roger, 30. "He was using it as a passenger to save money on train fares, but he said it was also a way to meet nice people."
After joining the site, Roger was called by a member of staff to verify his identity – this can be done by linking to the driver’s Facebook profile.
Carpooling services take a lot of care to ensure drivers and passengers are who they say they are and use real names, linking to social media profiles whenever possible.
Like BlaBlaCar, Liftshare suggests a fair sum for each passenger to contribute.
Roger says he sticks with this figure, and points out that the transactions are carried out through the site by PayPal.
"Money never changes hands," he says.
Dealing with insurance issues
The fact that payments only cover fuel and running costs is important from an insurance point of view.
According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which represents the majority of UK providers, standard motor policies will continue to cover vehicles involved in lift-sharing provided no profit is made.
The organisation says:
"All ABI motor insurers have agreed that your insurance cover will not be affected if your passengers contribute towards your journey costs (including fuel, vehicle depreciation and associated vehicle running costs), as long as lifts are given in a vehicle seating eight passengers or less.
"This does not apply if you make a profit from payments received or if carrying passengers is your business."
Take sensible precautions
As well as making identity checks on drivers, the services advise all users to take sensible precautions before travelling with someone new.
According to Liftshare, these include:
After each trip, passengers and drivers are encouraged to rate each other on the site.
On BlaBlaCar, for example, users are given experience levels based on how long they have been members of the site, how many reviews they have received, and what proportion were favourable.
Will you get on?
It is then possible to choose passengers or drivers based on their "experience": you can also get in touch with people you’re thinking of sharing with in advance to assess your compatibility.
Lift-sharing services are still relatively new in the UK, but most providers report the number of members rising sharply.
However, Trevor says: "At the moment, there are probably not enough people signed up to make lift-sharing the easy option for most trips.
"But I tell everyone I meet about how great an idea it is: after all, the more people who do it, the less traffic there will be for me to worry about."