Friday, September 08, 2006

Share a car-- save the earth and your wallet!

As I've written before, it's a great idea to walk or bike instead of driving when you can.  But what if sometimes walking, biking, and public transit just won't work?  Is car ownership the only alternative?

Well, especially if you live in an urban area, why not look into car-sharing?

When you join a car sharing program, you can have access to cars for as short or as long a time as you need them.  You can take one for an hour to run an errand or pick someone up at the airport-- or for days at a time.  They have a variety of different cars, and numerous convenient locations.  Over 100,000 people are using these programs nationwide, and many more around the world.

There are a ton of benefits, financial and environmental, to car-sharing.  Obviously owning a car is really expensive, between purchase price (and interest if you have a car loan), insurance, parking, maintenance, fees-- so skipping those costs can be hugely beneficial, depending on how often you'd use the shared car.  I've seen it cited many times that car sharing is better financially than owning if you drive less than 7,500 miles a year (I can't vouch for the figure, since I haven't seen the original source/how it was calculated).  This also works well, by the way, if you need more than one car but you don't really need two. 

But the real beauty of car sharing is the way it forces you to think about whether you really need to use a car or not.  If you have a car in the garage, it's very so easy it to take it wherever you're going, even if it's just down the street.  That's bad for the environment, and it's not so good for your wallet, either.  On the other hand, if you have to pay for your shared-car usage as you go, it's a great way to get yourself considering if there are other, better ways to travel.  More walking and biking is good for the planet, your health, and your happiness, and it's blissfully free.  And public transit, too, is environmentally friendly and cheap.  Yet those shared cars are still available if the car really is the best way to go.  In a lot of ways, it's the best of both worlds.

Another environmental benefit:  many of these programs make a point of filling their fleets with hybrids and other high-fuel-efficiency vehicles.  Of course, this varies from program to program; Your Mileage May Vary. (Sorry, had to say it!)

Check out this MSN article, which talks about a lot of the benefits of shared cars, and be sure to scroll down to the table at the bottom, listing 41 cities with shared car programs complete with links-- some locations may surprise you!  (Also, here's another perk-- the opportunity to drive a wide variety of new, different cars.)
And if you like the idea but the formal car-sharing programs aren't available in your area or don't fit your needs, be creative.  Are there friends, neighbors, or relatives you could share a car with more informally?

The MSN article gives you links to just about every car sharing program there is.  And other resources include articles here, here, here, and more-- just search around!
Have you tried a car sharing service?  What did you think?  Have you considered trying car-sharing but decided against it, and if so, why?  What have your experiences been?


fin_indie said...

Haven't used a car service, but am considering a new job -- one of the most exciting things about the new job is that i drop a 15 mile car ride with a 20 minute walk. How's that for saving my part of the planet?

Then Things said...

I love biking around Chicago! Who needs a car!
Seriously though we've just found that whenever we need a car we can just wait for a friend with a car to take us there. (And so far the only place we've NEEDED a car to get to is Ikea.)

Charles said...

I've been without a car for about a month due to some bad luck, and I've tried to learn how to get around the San Francisco bay area without a car through different methods. I have blogged my "experiment" and my top 10 tips for going carless or at least less car at

Tiredbuthappy said...

A few years ago, I sold my car and joined a car-share organization (Philly Car Share). I liked not having a car. We lived in a neighborhood at the time that was hard to park in, and insurance was sky high. And I did enjoy driving all kinds of hybrids that belonged to the car share program.

But I was part of the program when it was just getting off the ground, and I found that no cars near my house were ever available when I wanted them. Also, it was too expensive to use them for more than a couple hours at a time. So when we moved out to the sticks where there was less public transportation and more parking, I wasn't too sad to get rid of my car share membership and buy my own vehicle again.

Since then, I know the program has grown a lot and added a lot of cars, so it would probably be better now. They've also added more different kinds of vehicles. I have neighbors, for example, who own a tiny little economy car, but they also belong to Philly Car Share. A couple times a year, they get a big pickup truck and go to Ikea or other big box stores. If I could afford the monthly fee, I'd probably join again, partly to support it and partly so I could use a pickup occasionally.

ReformedCynic said...

I live in Boston, and am a proud Zipcar ( member - I use it for stock-up grocery trips and day trips to surrounding towns a couple of times a month. It also allows me to practice my driving - I learned to drive in my 20's, and need to keep my skills fresh as I often travel for business to places where I *need* to drive.