Driving home for Christmas? The car hire apps to try out in London

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for rail strikes and vital track upgrades which makes escaping London to see family and friends anywhere beyond the M25 a rather tricky pursuit. And whilst we should all follow Greta’s lead and travel by train more, there are moments when it’s not always feasible. 

If car ownership is not in your current or future plans, then the raft of car-hire apps that are springing up to serve London and beyond are on hand to help. This isn’t like hiring an Avis from an airport by the way, with queues that feel endless and enough paperwork to bore you into submission. The tech involved is pretty seamless: simply download the app, book the dates, and pay up. Bluetooth tech in cars is so good now that quite often you use your smartphone as a ‘key’ to unlock the vehicle before finding a key inside or simply controlling everything through your device. 

Virtuo, which offers Mercedes A-Class and GLA cars to hire, is just one of the many offerings that is growing across the city, with prices starting for £43 per day. Based in Paris, the company launched its rental service in London last July and raised over £17 million earlier this year from the likes of Iris Ventures and Balderton, which has backed a range of mobility companies including Citymapper and scooter start-up Voi. 

“Public and private transport systems in cities are changing rapidly and visitors and city dwellers alike are being offered many more digitally-powered ways to get around,” Balderton managing partner, Bernard Liautaud, told the Standard. “We are moving rapidly to a world where people are less likely to own a car, but they still want the freedom of access to a car they can drive, at a time and place that suits them. By transforming the car hire experience, Virtuo is bringing another key element of on-demand mobility to business and personal users.”

It’s certainly easy to use. I recently trialled the service on a weekend break and wowed everyone else with the ability to lock and unlock the car with my phone. After setting up the profile and taking a photo of a driving license, you then have to wait a day or two to be approved so keep that in mind before using it for a trip. Once that’s sorted, you can book away. You can add other drivers as long as they have a profile but ensure you do that before the day of the booking. 

Virtuo started in Paris before launching in London last year (Virtuo)

With Virtuo, you can pick cars up near train and tube stations around the city – there’s 13 in London alone including Stratford International, which is the most popular, followed by London Victoria. Next year, the company will add a delivery and collection service for an extra fee – The Out, which leases Land Rovers and Range Rovers from £148 per day, offers this service already. 

The only issue I found with Virtuo was caused by myself – I attempted to connect another smartphone to the car for Spotify purposes and ending up disconnecting my device so it took about half an hour to sort this out and get the key to work so the car would start. Luckily we hadn’t left the car park at this point and there is a helpline in the app with Virtuo staff on call to help sort out any issues.

Aside from that the process was easy and seamless – exactly what you want when hiring a car – so it’s no wonder that these services are taking off. For those wanting an eco-friendly ride, E-Car Club lends electric cars such as the Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf, from £45 per day with a one-off £50 membership fee. ShareNow (formerly Drive Now) leases BMWs or Minis and throws in insurance, fuel and parking in the rental price, from £64.99 per day. Virtuo offers different options for insurance from free to £25 per day, and ULEZ and congestion charge are taken care off but fuel is not. If you don’t have time to fill the car up before dropping it back off, the company will charge you for the amount you’ve used which works out more expensive than stopping at a petrol station but does save time.

The Out leases new Land Rover and Range Rover cars to hire and will drop them off and pick them up after use (The Out)

These car-club types aren’t the only car apps growing. There’s also a raft of peer-to-peer versions, whereby you can borrow a car from your neighbour down the road such as Hiyacar and Turo.

This year, US company Getaround acquired French start-up Drivy as part of a push to consolidate their positions in the global car-sharing market. There are benefits to the P2P apps – for every car that is shared in this way, 10 cars are taken off the road according to research by Como UK. 

CEO and founder of Getaround, Sam Zaid, told the Standard: “With car sharing, you have less congestion, it’s better for the city and the environment, and makes places much more liveable and sustainable. That was core to our ethos.”

Despite proclamations of the car-less future, the vehicles still hold an enduring appeal for the UK. According to the RAC Foundation, the new car market declined by 6.8 per cent in 2018 however, 61 per cent of trips were made by car last year pointing to its enduring appeal for the UK population.  

Whilst we may never stop using cars, moving to more of a sharing/hiring economy will certainly reduce the number of vehicles around and offers a useful alternative to those festive train issues. 

The car hire apps to try out for London day trips and beyond

E-Car Club: From £45 per day, with a one-off £50 membership fee, 

Share Now: From £64.99 per day, 

The Out: From £148 per day,  

Ubeeqo: From £45 per day, 

Virtuo: From £43 per day,  


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