Do you really need a car all the time?
May 15, 2001 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Do you really need a car all the time? Or do you need one (or another one) just a few times a month? Car sharing is getting some press lately. Most carsharing programs are for profit, but City Carshare in San Francisco is a nonprofit organization. Is there a carshare program in your city? Would it work for you?
posted by feckless (37 comments total)
We joined City Carshare a few months ago, and took our maiden voyage in a bright green VW bug this weekend. We reserved it a week ahead (Sundays tend to be popular), walked over to one of two lots within four blocks of us, waved a magic key fob thingie in front of the car, and drove off. The pricing is structured to make multiple short trips cheaper than a few longer ones, but we splurged and drove north to Stinson Beach, back through the city to Berkeley, and all around the city, and it'll still probably cost us less than renting a car for the day. Best of all, when we were done, I didn't have to look for a parking space! Owning a car in San Francisco is a huge pain in the butt, and now we don't have to. Their long-term goal is to reduce the number of cars in San Francisco without reducing anyone's quality of life. Take that, Dick Cheney . . .
posted by feckless at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2001

That sounds cool. I just sent an email to the guy who's planning the Cleveland program (for all you Clevelanders out there, it's Definitely something to look into.
posted by starvingartist at 9:28 AM on May 15, 2001

Portland also has a car-sharing system. I checked it out, but for me renting was more economical. Still, I keep them on my radar.

We've also tried bike sharing, but it was more like a bike-stealing program. Though it may still be going--every once in a rare while I see an ugly yellow bike on the sidewalk.
posted by frykitty at 9:29 AM on May 15, 2001

This is a great idea. Now if someone would just branch it out to make it more neighborhood-based.

Implement this idea into apartment complexes, especially those geared around off-campus student housing, and this could be an even better idea.
posted by ttrendel at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2001

Any of you Seattleites tried FlexCar? (For-profit, I believe.) I've looked into it a couple times, but general inertia has prevented me from acting.
posted by Skot at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2001

There has been some action here in Cleveland to get a car-sharing venture up and running. There are (to my knowledge) car-sharing businesses doing well in Seattle, Portland, and Boston. What these three cities share (along with San Francisco) are concentrations of young, upper-middle class singles or childless couples that rely on public transportation for most of their travels. Also, it helps to have a general shortage of parking, good transit access, and high population concentrations. None of these aspects are present in Greater Cleveland, but there are certain neighborhoods where such a venture could thrive.

Then again, with the prospects of $3.00/gal. gasoline...

(By the bye, I previewed this just after feckless's post; starvingartist, are you talking about Ryan? I went to school with him.)
posted by Avogadro at 9:36 AM on May 15, 2001

This is a great idea. Now if someone would just branch it out to make it more neighborhood-based.

I think that's what the SF people are trying for--they want a few cars for each neighborhood in the city. The hard part is nailing down parking spaces for them . . .
posted by feckless at 9:37 AM on May 15, 2001

Hmmmm. Is sharing so different to hiring that it's going to make a significant difference? The cynic within me suggests not and even the optimist can't see a convincing argument why...

In particular, how many people use a car just the right amount to make this cheaper than rental and less expensive than owning AND are willing to put up with booking ahead?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:39 AM on May 15, 2001

Believe it or not, as a New Yorker and now a commuting New Jerseyan, I am thirty years old and have never owned a car in my life.
posted by brucec at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2001

Advantages of car-sharing over renting include the following:

Less paperwork (reservations are usually done over the internet or by telephone automation).

Easier access to vehicles (usually locations are closer to home).

Much less expensive for short-use trips (half a day) and use frequencies of around once a week (such as shopping trips).
posted by Avogadro at 9:43 AM on May 15, 2001

well, this would be good for us. (we live in san francisco).

happily, we now have a friend who allows us to use her garage for our car; aside from two trips out of the city, last year we used the car twice a week: to move it from one side of the street to the other, so that it wouldn't be ticketed when they cleaned the streets. we filled the tank one time in all of last year.

in our new apartment, there's even *less* parking available than there was in our old neighborhood.

we may take a drive out of town to home depot tomorrow; since I moved here a year ago, we've avoided *ever* using it because we're wusses, and even if we had been able to find a place to park where we were going in the city, we were certain *not* to find one when we got back home. we haven't even considered driving out of town (the only real reason to have a car in sf) because finding a parking place when we got home was such a nightmare.

but it's hard to get rid of a car; it represents freedom, and there are always one or two occasions a year when a car is really useful.

not every city has the public transportation sf has, but for me, a car has been more of an inconvenience than a convenience since I moved here. I need to look into this program.

posted by rebeccablood at 9:55 AM on May 15, 2001

rebeccablood: Why is this so attractive if you keep your car even when you hardly use it? What was so bad with hiring a car that stopped you getting rid of it before?

Avogadro: At least in the UK you can hire over the phone, and there are small hire companies all over town. And if there was a demand for shorter hire, wouldn't hire companies provide it?
posted by andrew cooke at 10:01 AM on May 15, 2001

andrew cooke: Why is this so attractive if you keep your car even when you hardly use it?

this might mean that we can get rid of our car and still be able to do those twice-a-year errands that require a car.

What was so bad with hiring a car that stopped you getting rid of it before?

the expense, I suppose.

mainly, we've kept if from habit. we were all set to give it away last summer, then suddenly some things came up that we absolutely needed it for, and after all that was over the mania to rid ourselves of it was mixed with the idea that it *was* awfully handy from time to time, and then inertia set in.

thing is, we have an awfully sweet set-up now, the car is worry free; but I'm going to look into how much this would cost, and how much we're spending on insurance, etc. and revisit the idea of getting rid of it.

alternately, maybe we'll wait until our sweet garage deal ends, and then we'll have a reasonable alternative.

posted by rebeccablood at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2001

At least in the UK you can hire over the phone, and there are small hire companies all over town. And if there was a demand for shorter hire, wouldn't hire companies provide it?

Small hire companies are not quite as present in the U.S. (rental agencies tend to cluster around airports and suburban freeway interchanges). I don't know why they wouldn't provide this service, but I could speculate that it is because the amount of paperwork and personnel hours that they would dedicate to the service wouldn't justify the expense. Typically, car-share services are low cost ventures where the users clean the cars, share maintenace duties (such as getting the oil changed in exchange for credits), and generally don't abuse the cars.
posted by Avogadro at 10:13 AM on May 15, 2001

brucec: I am 32, live in Chicago, and have also never owned a car. I find myself wishing I had a car perhaps once a month, if that. But somehow I manage to get by without missing it much. Bicycle, public transportation, and friends all help.

But I know that once I do buy a car, I will likely never be without one again. The accompanying luxury (or freedom, as rebeccablood says), will probably be too difficult to give up once tasted.
posted by mapalm at 10:15 AM on May 15, 2001

I am a member of the car share program here in Vancouver. Since it is a co-op it is not for profit. We had to pay a $500 deposit (protected) to join. There are 3 pricing tiers depending on usage. We are in the low usage and pay $50 annually plus $1.50/hr and $0.30/km. If you have to put gas in the car, that is taken of your monthly bill.

There are about 35 cars throughout the city now. We have a minivan a block and a half away and a little Mazda about 3 blocks away. The city also throws in parking permits for free, allowing the vehicle to be parked throughout the city.

They even have an agreement with a local rental agency if you need a car longer to give us a discount, and we are able to get the car insurance for the rental through the co-op to save even more.

All in all an excellent program I think. The only drawback was you had to plan a few days ahead to get a car for the time you want. But this summer they are starting web bookings and we will be able to see the status of a car online, live. Great when we want to take off at the spur of the moment.

That said I cannot imagine it working as a for-profit venture.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2001

Flexcar is pretty great, but if you go anywhere far it'll cost you a fortune. And they're always adding new cars, so there's a ton of them around town now.

One thing I like about it is that they waive the hourly fee between 11pm and 7am, so going to parties works out to be pretty cheap.
posted by endquote at 10:20 AM on May 15, 2001

Seattle's Flexcar program is great. I use public transportation to get to and from work, but found myself in situations once or twice a month where I wished I had a car. As far as cost comparisons - I have rarely paid more than $25 for any one use of the car (but I tend to use it in the city). Much cheaper than renting. In addition, Flexcar pays for gas, maintenance, cleaning and insurance. They even have a couple of pick-up trucks. And as far as "booking in advance" - the Seattle program has a lot of vehicles in at least six different neighborhoods. Most of the time I call less than 2 hours in advance and I have never been unable to book one of the 4 cars near my apartment.
posted by ira at 10:27 AM on May 15, 2001

Yes, Seattle's FlexCar is great. I really feel strongly about these gas price/mass transit/traffic type of issues. This is yet more evidence that there are other solutions for the US's oil/car dependant society. Although it is still a car that uses fuel at least it is spread among several consumers thus reducing the environmental costs.
posted by borgle at 10:34 AM on May 15, 2001

It's the large deposit for car sharing that was a rub for me. For my scant usage, I just couldn't justify handing over several hundred dollars when I can rent a car deposit-free. Portland does have quite a few rental places scattered about the city--I use a small one about ten minutes away on the bus.

Still, I find the concept attractive, and would like to support it if it were more practical for me.

It does require a paradigm shift. I've been car-free for most of my life, so it's never been a necessity to own one. I think it would take a long time to stop missing the convenience of a car. Solutions like car sharing certainly make the change less painful.
posted by frykitty at 10:42 AM on May 15, 2001

Who provides the insurance coverage for all of these shared cars? I'm having nasty lawyer daydreams about liability.
posted by Dreama at 10:47 AM on May 15, 2001

Who provides the insurance coverage for all of these shared cars? I'm having nasty lawyer daydreams about liability.

It works the same way as fleet insurance: potential members get screened for credit and driving histories, and if approved, are insured through the car-share agency. High-risk drivers are filtered out beforehand.
posted by Avogadro at 10:51 AM on May 15, 2001

And I don't know about other states, but in Ohio you're required to have your own insurance if you have a driver's license, regardless of whether you own a car or not.
posted by starvingartist at 10:57 AM on May 15, 2001

As you can see if you look through the ZipCar site, one of the issues here in Boston is that they've chosen their locations strategically, which is to say not necessarily convenient for everyone who needs a car once in a while, just in the likeliest places with the right demographic. It skews heavily to student neighborhoods and places where rich liberals live (oh yes, there are rich liberals, especially in Boston).
posted by briank at 11:25 AM on May 15, 2001

Hmm, I wonder how useful a private rideshare club might be? I could see a group of people buying a decent used car and sharing maintenance responsibilities and parking space while setting up a scheduling system for use. I guess the main problems might be expense and drawing up a good legal contract for the members to sign, but I kinda like the idea...

On another note, this had to be one the most well behaved threads I've had the pleasure of reading in a while. Bravo.
posted by Hackworth at 11:40 AM on May 15, 2001

This is one of those logical enterprises that seem to work best on the left coast. I think it would be pretty expensive where I live (Manhattan), and I know that the car rental companies would lobby loudly against it. Personally I would love car sharing as we don't own one (garage=$400/mo.) and sometimes need a car for less than a day. I long to visit a place like Home Depot or Target or Costco, but they're not on the subway line.
posted by caraig at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2001

Oh, this is a good link that will show listings of car sharing projects around the world.

I'm a little surprised that there isn't such an agency in NYC; it seems ideal. I don't think that there is much that rental agencies can do to stop it.
posted by Avogadro at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2001

ahem, anyways. I think car-sharing is a bloody good thing, and as soon as my current hunk-o-junk fails to run, car sharing will hopefully hit the Cuyahoga.

*back to your regularly scheduled thread*
posted by Avogadro at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2001

Hackworth: On another note, this had to be one the most well behaved threads I've had the pleasure of reading in a while. Bravo.

yikes. what does that say for the rest of metafilter? what happened here while I was gone????

posted by rebeccablood at 12:44 PM on May 15, 2001

Here in Boston we have "Zipcar"...I haven't used it (I go by bicycle), but I've seen the Zipcar parking spaces dispersed throughout the city.

Our local public radio monolith interviewed the Zipcar people awhile ago. One of the interesting things they said during the spot was that, in order to assure success, they would need to roll-out the service with *lots* of cars. This creates a higher barrier to entry, though, so I'm not sure how well Zipcar is doing.

I really hope this idea takes off, but I'm skeptical. Riding my bicycle, I see an absurd number of people driving *alone* to work every morning. Given the current administration (oil barons), I don't expect a big push toward car-alternatives....
posted by preguicoso at 1:02 PM on May 15, 2001

Flexcar rocks!! ;-)
posted by muppetboy at 1:26 PM on May 15, 2001

I'm dubious about the whole idea. Who really wants a car that they can't leave their stuff in?
posted by kindall at 2:10 PM on May 15, 2001

Beats leaving all my stuff by the curb.
posted by Skot at 2:17 PM on May 15, 2001

I love the car-sharing idea, but Flexcar doesn't offer 4x4s (and even if they did, I'm sure they wouldn't actually let you take them into the wilderness!), and for any trip longer than around half a day it's cheaper to use a regular rental agency. So it wouldn't help me at all.

The system seems designed for people who live and work downtown, but for some reason need to visit the suburbs an awful lot. To me the main problems getting around downtown are traffic and parking, and sharing the car doesn't help you with either of those.

posted by Mars Saxman at 4:10 PM on May 15, 2001

The Chicago program was featured on TV, and the spokeswoman said, "We call them 'Ikeamobiles'". So true. (Especially since the city turned down a north side urban site for Ikea that they really wanted to build on.)
posted by dhartung at 4:53 PM on May 15, 2001

Looked at some of these programs and they certainly don't come cheap. Personally, I bike, but need a car mostly for longer day/weekend trips. And given the cost of these programs, one might as well get a cheap ghetto car for $500 and hope it runs. (park on the curb)

The programs might work for people who never leave their cities and need the car just for groceries, or where public transportation is poor, (west coast), but for most people this doesn't make financial sense.

Plus, most people already have a car sharing arrangement--their friends!
posted by Witold at 4:56 PM on May 15, 2001

I'm thinking of joining our local carshare here in norway - can't afford to just yet, since you have to buy a "share" for about $450 to join (you get it back when you leave) - but it's piles cheaper than owning or renting on a day to day basis. Also, it solves the problem of parking - there are even special parking spaces allocated to the carshare in the centre of town and round about. If I join the local carshare, I can also get cars from other cities in Norway, which is nice. Much much cheaper than hiring.

There are model suburbs being built in the Netherlands and Britain that are specially made so there are NO cars in the residential area at all but public transportation in and out is excellent and when you buy a flat there, you also become a member in the neighbourhood carshare. I wish my neighbourhood was like that. Unfortunately I can't find the web sites any more, I remember surfing around there months ago but nope, can't get back.
posted by jill at 8:26 AM on May 16, 2001

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