Community car schemes - Frequently asked questions

What are community car schemes?

Community car schemes provide transport for local people who are not able to make reasonable use of alternative transport options. These schemes provide a door-to-door service, accommodating any special requirements of the passenger where possible.

Many communities benefit from having a local volunteer car scheme. These schemes provide a vital, yet affordable, transport service for people that would otherwise struggle to live independently.

How these schemes operate varies. Generally they're made up of volunteer drivers and organisers. The drivers are responsible for picking up passengers and taking them to and from their destination. The organisers contribute by keeping the scheme running, finding new drivers, and performing administrative and finance tasks.

Why are car schemes needed?

As cuts to public services deepen, people who don’t drive are increasingly struggling to reach essential services and even to do routine activities such as the weekly food shop. This is especially true if they are elderly, disabled, or one of the 12.7 million people living in rural areas in the UK, where bus services are often minimal or non-existent.

How do car schemes operate?

There is no 'single model' for how community car schemes operate in the UK and elsewhere. Many community car schemes have been created by individual groups of volunteers as part of a solution to tackle the lack of accessible transport within their communities. Many of these groups evolve their own way of managing the demands of a car scheme, with a few common themes:

  • Passengers - individuals who use the scheme, often (but not always) for medical and GP appointments
  • Coordinators - individuals responsible for responding to requests and organising trips, mediating between passengers and drivers
  • Drivers - individuals who often volunteer (though some schemes opt to reimburse to some extent) to drive passengers to their destination
  • Treasurers - when a scheme is large enough they may need a dedicated treasurer to handle finances and make sure all reimbursement, local government subsidies, and other financial matters are handled correctly

Some groups are supported by local government schemes which may subsidise the fuel cost per mile, or offer similar financial incentives or assistance. If you run a car scheme, or are thinking of starting one it's a good idea to make sure you're aware of any such initiative.

How to raise money for car schemes

There are many options available to you in raising money for your car scheme:

  • Parish council funding requests - You're delivering a vital service to your local area. Parish councils are often extremely receptive to supporting initiatives such as this. You can typically expect a Parish council to accept a funding request ranging from £100-£1000+.
  • Community chest applications - Many counties issue small grants (typically up to £1000 a year) to support community initiatives such as community car schemes. These may take many forms, the most common being the community chest grant. Check your local area to see if there is a community chest fund available.
  • Local fundraising - Many car schemes rely on community support to sustain their activities. Accepting local donations, running cake sales, and other community oriented fundraising events are an excellent way to ensure the continued success of your car scheme, as well as engaging local people and reducing social isolation.

How to manage donations, payments, and finances

Managing community car scheme finances is one of the more difficult aspects to running a car scheme. You're likely engaged in running a car scheme to help local people. Spending more of your time focused on managing money is an unwelcome reality for many car scheme organisers.

How can my car scheme work during the COVID-19 crisis?

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on car schemes across the UK. Many are now having to adapt to support new activities such as shopping for essentials, and reducing social isolation for those who are isolating.

Via now supports covid-19 activities such as volunteer trips to buy essential goods from shops, phone engagement for those isolated, and of course conventional passenger journeys. We are also actively working with volunteer groups to ensure they are equipped to continue supporting their communities at this difficult time.

Your car scheme can have a huge impact in your local area by adapting to this new crisis:

  • Older drivers (those 70+) can still engage through activities such as phoning isolated people
  • If your drivers are supporting the NHS by engaging in passenger transport make sure there is no contact between passengers and drivers
  • Ensure your drivers keep the car clean and have hand sanitiser readily available

The Via application - Frequently asked questions

What is Via?

Via is a simple to use, secure web application for managing all aspects of Community and Volunteer Car Scheme operations. Via is used by community car schemes up and down the country and supports in helping to manage thousands of journey bookings every month.

Via has been built to be as intuitive and accessible as possible. To use Via all you need is a web browser and an internet connection.

How does Via help car schemes?

Via has hundreds of features to automate the management of a community car scheme. You can learn more about specific features on our page dedicated to explaining how we help running your car scheme.

Key ways Via helps running car schemes:

  • Speeds up finding drivers for journeys
  • Gives all your organisers and coordinators a mechanism to collaborate with ease
  • Gives you automated notifications when a driver's DBS and insurance is about to expire
  • Notifies you when journeys are booked that still need drivers or require your attention
  • Configurable automated journey reminders for passengers and drivers
  • Completely automates many of the tasks associated with a treasurer
  • Shows you in-depth statistics on the usage of your scheme, which is very helpful when seeking funding at a Parish Council level
  • And many more . . .

How much does Via cost and how do I pay?

You can see a full explanation of Via's pricing on our pricing page.

Currently you can pay for Via by bank transfer. However, this is subject to change and we will be looking to introduce more payment methods in future.

We use the (very modest) £120 a year to maintain the service, work on new features, and improve national access to volunteering schemes such as yours. Let us know if you have any thoughts on how you think we can make a difference!

Can I use Via for free?

Via is available to everyone for free for the first 3 months of use. After that point, Via is free for small schemes processing up to 100 journeys and other activities a year.

Many schemes will outgrow this quickly, and we're keen to work with you to make sure you can continue to access Via.

See our advice on how to raise money for car schemes

How and where can I access Via?

You can access Via at any time from any location. Once you have an account, all you need is a computer, a web browser, and an internet connection. You can log in to the app from:

How many team members access Via?

Once your car scheme is signed up you can have as many team members on Via as you like at no extra cost.

To add more team members to your organisation (and manage your existing members) Go to the 'People' page on the app and invite more members.

Community Sparx CIC - Frequently asked questions

Who are Community Sparx?

Community Sparx is a small community interest company based in Cambridge, UK. We're on a mission to apply new and exciting technologies to long term societal issues. Our founders have a long history in both community engagement, and the technology sector. Most importantly of all: we're volunteer car scheme drivers ourselves.

We're excited by the opportunity we have to promote profound social improvement, better people's lives, save the NHS money, and empower local volunteering.

To make sure that our business is sustainable, we aim to make a modest profit, but it's what we do with our profit that sets us apart from traditional companies with shareholders to satisfy. We re-invest any profit that we make into the business, or use it to create positive social change in the community.

What is a CIC (Community interest company)?

A community interest company is a special kind of company. Unlike a conventional company, we're legally bound to ensure any and all profit we make is 100% reinvested in the community in one way or another. Whereas a conventional company is driven by maximising profit for private shareholders, we're driven by maximising community impact.

In order to be a CIC, we have to provide continued proof that our activities are providing social benefit.

This gives our customers confidence that they are paying a fair price and also the security of knowing that they are buying from a professionally run organisation with an eye on delivering long-term benefit to its customers and the community, rather than short-term profits.