I use local transit to get around to be “green,” but I do miss the freedom of driving. I see that you can pay an annual fee and then a nominal cost to use a vehicle through a car sharing system. Could you shed light on using this type of service for commuting versus occasional driving? -Dan in Vancouver
Back in 1994, Quebec’s Communauto was the first car share service on the continent. Today, car sharing is an option in more than 1,000 cities around the world. As of last year, car shares groups in North America had more than 10,000 vehicles and more than half a million members.
For the uninitiated, car sharing provides members with access to a bank of vehicles for short periods of time in return for a fee based on the length of booking, and in some cases the distance travelled. In contrast to traditional car rental, users typically book cars for a number of hours, and the fee includes tax, fuel and insurance. Fees are usually charged by the hour, but in some cases by the minute.
Another difference from conventional car rental is that car share organizations typically charge members an annual fee. Some of these organizations exist purely for profit, while others are non-profit or co-operatives.
When used regularly over prolonged periods (i.e. for commuting), car sharing falls short in the same way as conventional renting: it isn’t cost-effective. Generally in these cases, utilizing a transit system, carpooling or vehicle ownership makes the most sense, depending upon the particulars of your situation.
Car share vehicles must typically be picked up and returned at the same location. If you tried commuting to work using this system, you’d pay an hourly rate for the privilege of having a car sitting in the parking lot.
There are “one-way” car sharing services popping up around the globe, though so far only in select cities. Pick-up and drop-off for one-way rentals is restricted to certain areas. The odds may be (very) slim that a car is available near your home when you need it, that a drop-location exists near your destination, and that a vehicle is available at the end of your work day.
If you only need to drive occasionally, however, car sharing wins by a mile.
“Car sharing is not for commuting, it’s for all the other trips we take. In Metro Vancouver, 70 per cent of the trips we take are not to work or school and back, they’re all of the other trips,” says Tanya Paz, business development director at Modo The Car Co-op in Vancouver.
“Most of our members can get to work or school via other means, and need a car sometimes. If you need a car four or five days a week for leisure or errands, however, it can work. One example is someone taking their child to French immersion across town, so if they only need the car for a very short trip in the morning, and then in the afternoon to pick their child up,”
With a bit of advance planning, the freedom of driving could be yours once more, and without the cost of car ownership.
“Of course insurance premiums can vary among individuals, but it’s typical for someone to spend $700 or $800 a month on owning a vehicle with car payments, insurance, and the cost of gas. Our vehicle rates average $10 to $10.50 per hour, with gas and insurance included,” says Sean Lynch, marketing manager at Zipcar in Toronto.
“Even if you drive 20 hours over a month, say five hours per week, you’re still looking at spending under $300 on a Zipcar, which is substantial savings. In 20 hours a month, you can get a lot of errands and chores done.”
Car sharing can also make sense for occasional business use.
“That’s why we have such a big presence in the downtown core. Many companies either spend a lot on administration for expensing multiple gas and kilometre receipts for employees, on a vehicle fleet of their own, or on paying car allowances to their employees. But for 2 to 3 meetings per week, if you can rent a car for as little as one hour at a time, it can be a great cost savings, great for the environment, and great for car congestion,” says Lynch.
If you don’t need a car everyday, or your goal is to be green or thrifty while surviving and thriving in the modern world of roads and highways, car sharing is a viable option.
You won’t have to worry about maintenance, but you must ensure the vehicle is back at the precise time. With any luck it won’t turn into a pumpkin, but you will face a fine, and the wrath of whoever has made the subsequent booking.
E-mail your car-related questions to Joanne Will at Ask Joanne. firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: Tanya Paz is business development director of Modo The Car Co-op in Vancouver. The error has been corrected in the above story.