Dubbed the City of Screaming Tyres in the early 1990s, Oxford has moved down the road towards a more rational approach to cars and car ownership during the past 15 years — with some ideas having been found good, others less good; all controversial.

Now a group of thoughtful East Oxford residents have come up with a scheme, to be launched by the Lord Mayor, Susanna Pressel, on Monday, which could take cars off the city’s streets, save money, and still provide people with a car whenever they need one.

Welcome to Oxcar, which, its sponsors say, is not just another car-sharing scheme, but a not-for-profit operation designed to enable members to help themselves to a car from specially designated parking bays near their homes whenever they need one.

A founder member of Oxcar, Cliff Jordan, of Florence Park, said: “Proposed changes to residents’ parking arrangements was the trigger for all this, the thing that concentrated minds on the problem of too many cars.”

Spokesman for the group, Abi Johnson, of Hurst Street, said: “There is so much overparking round here that it is sometimes not possible for residents to park even within a few streets of their own homes.”

She added: “At the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, new residents’ parking rules may come into force which will limit the number of spaces and also limit the number of residents’ permits to two per house. This means there would be fewer parking spaces available overall.

“We think that our car club will be an important tool in making the controlled zone work, since there are likely not to be enough parking spaces to meet demand.”

The car club will be run by a national company, Commonwheels, based in Leeds, which already has a scheme in Reading. Philip Igoe, of Commonwheels, said: “East Oxford is also an innovative scheme because it is hybrid, combining new cars with old. It will get under way with two new Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion cars, plus four secondhand vehicles which have been loaned to Oxcar by East Oxford residents.”

Oxfordshire County Council is to mark five on-street parking bays for the club cars within the next few weeks: two in the Divinity Road area, two in the Magdalen Road area, and one in Iffley Fields.

Oxcar also has two spaces in the Ethical Property Building car park behind the Old Music hall on Cowley Road, and the county council has also earmarked two further on-street spaces for when the scheme is up and running.

Ms Johnson said: “Most of our members are not concerned whether the car they drive is new or old, as long as it is clean and works well.

If you have a new VW Golf 1.6 parked outside your house and you drive about 3,000 miles a year, by the time you have lost money on depreciation, insurance, car tax, the cost of the capital tied up in the car, and annual service, you will have forked out about £4,000 a year.

As an Oxcar member, on the other hand, you pay a £150 refundable deposit (or £7.50 a month non-refundable), then either £4 an hour for a new car or £2.50 for an “adopted” one, plus a mileage fee after the first ten miles (25p per mile for the next 100 miles and 19p per mile thereafter), cutting your annual spending by half.

“However, some are concerned that they might join the scheme and then find that there is no car available when they need one. That is where the experience of Commonwheels comes in. They are used to getting the balance right and I think it will be very rare that there will be no car available when a member needs one. They also have all the technology that allows the scheme to function. It’s really a car-hire scheme without the hassle.”

Commonwheels is a not-for-profit company born out of the charity Carplus, which receives limited funds from the Government. The two VW Polos were bought with loans from Commonwheels directors and loans from the charity’s bank. Car clubs encourage green travel, because someone nipping round the corner to the shops will walk or cycle rather than pay £4 to hire a car.

But lurking beneath the surface of this particular East Oxford scheme is a bone of contention. Many residents believe that one reason for the present over-parking in the area is Oxford Brookes University students, as many as five of whom, each with a car, sometimes live in a single multiple-occupancy home.

Ms Johnson said: “We have been told that the university will do all it can to support the car club. And of course students’ cars would be limited under the proposal to restrict the number of permits allowed per household.”

Asked why Oxford Brookes did not simply follow the example of Oxford University and ban students from keeping cars, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Registrar, Rex Knight, had a robust reply.

He said: “It’s far too easy to blame Brookes students for all parking problems. The fact remains that across every area of society the use of the car has increased.

"We do make parking permits available to some students and charge roughly the same amount as the county council charges for its permits.

"In many ways, our undergraduate student population is very different to Oxford University. One in five are local and half are mature, many with family or carer responsibilities. Students at Brookes also have part-time jobs and undertake work placements in areas with no public transport, for instance in village schools or work shifts in hospitals."

The irony in all this, of course, lies in the fact that much of Oxford’s economy, since the days of Lord Nuffield, depends on car building. He it was who introduced the age of near-universal car ownership to Britain.

Now the local economy needs to sell cars with one hand and restrict their use with the other.

For details, see www.commonwheels.org.uk or call 0845 4786396.