Ali Clabburn on Saving Cash, Sharing Economies and Hitchhiking

Driving home for Christmas

Ali Clabburn was facing a serious dilemma. The year was 1998 and Christmas Day was mere hours away. He was in alone and penniless in Bristol, where he went to university, and his family was in Norfolk, his hometown. Reasoning that there must be a scheme in place for people who wanted to share rides around the country, he rang his local council to find out more, yet to his amazement discovered no such system was in place.

So he decided to create one himself, and Liftshare.com – the UK’s first car-sharing network – was born.

Creating a sharing economy

To date, Liftshare, now an international service, has been used by nearly 700,000 people and a whopping 4 million car seats are available in any given week. It is by far the UK’s biggest lift-sharing community and Ali and his team have rolled out similar businesses in Australia and the USA.

Before setting up his company Ali took a gap year, which formed part of the inspiration behind his idea.

“I travelled all over the world with only a few quid to live on and I found that the people who have the least share the most. When I got to Germany, I found they had – unsurprisingly – formalised lift-sharing. Their brilliant system of a noticeboard and Post-it notes worked so well that I replicated it online.”

The wider benefits of lift-sharing

Ali says saving money – a topic close to every gapper’s heart – is the main motivator for people who join Liftshare, but that other benefits quickly become apparent.

 “Money was definitely the first reason for me – the average saving is £1,000 per year – but I carried on because I met so many amazing people who I still keep in touch with. Plus, I hear brilliant stories from our members about amazing connections they’ve made.

“Whether they’re travelling to festivals together, getting home from uni or making a regular visit to a friend in another city, it puts the fun into what would otherwise be an expensive and mundane journey.”

Liftshare is kind on the environment, too: Ali notes that users of the service will save more than 500 million miles over the next 12 months, which would have created 167,000 tonnes of CO2.

The Liftshare team

Meeting people from all walks of life

Regarding typical Liftshare users, the only thing they all have in common is a desire to save money, meet new people and to travel ethically – other than that they could come from any walk of life, from students to pensioners to backpackers and everything in between.

“Last week I was chatting to a member in his 40s who is an explorer and just about the most interesting person I have ever spoken to – I’m going to lift-share with him just to find out more about his expeditions.”

Ali also speaks about a student from Delhi who has been travelling around Europe using Liftshare, saving enormous amounts of money and scoring a few free beds for the night along the way.

“He randomly ended up in Norwich and saw the sign outside our building so dropped in to say hello – it was very cool to meet a member like that!”

A safer form of hitchhiking

In many ways, Liftshare is a more organised and safer form of hitchhiking. Ali says he hitchhiked when he was travelling 20 years ago and loved it, but that it’s entirely up to the individual and who they’re with.

“I have no issue with hitchhiking but it’s very different from Liftshare because we have robust systems in place that keep our members safe, which is why we have an unblemished safety record.”

“But we are working on something new that will bring members the spontaneity of hitchhiking backed up by all our security systems. Watch this space!”

Part of a wider movement

Liftshare is just one very early example of a wider revolution which has been spreading through the internet in recent times. Widely known as the 'sharing economy', these websites aim to take out the middle man and simply allow people to connect and save as much money as possible in doing so.

Websites like Couchsurfing and AirBnB dominate the free accommodation movement, linking up travellers passing through with local people, and websites like Dog Vacay allow dog owners to leave their pets with people who will look after them in their own homes at a fraction of the cost of traditional kennels.

Ali, for now, is quite content with his car-sharing site.

"My heart lies in filling up the 4 million seats we have available to share on Liftshare each week - when I've done that I'll probably try something new, but it will always be within the sharing economy."

So, if you find yourself stranded this Christmas, unable to get home, remember: unlike Ali, 16 years ago, you have options!

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