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small change

Automobile costs can be cut in half for some motorists by using car-share services such as Modo.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Small Change is a series of stories that show how consumers can save money by making minor or incremental changes to their lifestyle.

At one point in time, Amy Robinson owned both a motorbike and a car. But she sold the bike when she got pregnant with her son, and got rid of the car just a year after inheriting it from her father.

Now Ms. Robinson makes her way around Vancouver, and occasionally up to the mountains for skiing, using a car-sharing service, which allows those who can neither afford, nor want to pay, the running costs of a vehicle to enjoy the benefits of a vehicle. She complements that by taking public transit where possible, and rides her bicycle when weather permits.

For the most part, Ms. Robinson, the founder and co-executive director of Loco BC, a non-profit local business alliance that tries to build sustainable businesses by encouraging a shift in local purchasing, doesn't miss it at all.

"There's the odd time when it's freezing rain or freezing cold and the bus is late or something happens and it feels like a drag and my son is complaining, 'Why don't we have a car?'" she says. "But for the most part, we're environmentalists in our work and our lives so we're very committed to making it work without a car."

That commitment is paying off with the bottom line. The driving costs calculator on the Canadian Automobile Association website estimates that the cost of operating a compact vehicle, such as a Honda Civic, in British Columbia for a year is $8,828, factoring in fuel, insurance, licensing, maintenance and depreciation.

In comparison, Modo, a car-sharing service founded in 1997 that caters to 15,000 users in B.C.'s Lower Mainland and Victoria, charges $8 an hour, or $64 for the entire day. Ms. Robinson uses Modo for her two-way car sharing – meaning the car needs to be returned to the same location it was picked up from – and uses Car2Go and Evo Car Sharing for one-way trips, where she might take the bus out and car-share her way home.

Factoring that in, Ms. Robinson's transportation expenditure compares very favourably.

"In a high month we might pay $500-600; in a low month we might pay less than $100," she says. "So the average we pay between Car2Go, Evo and Modo in a month is about $300, so we pay like half basically of what it would cost to own a car in a year."

While it was a slight inconvenience to carry around a car seat to install in a car-sharing vehicle when her son was young, now that he's 11, Ms. Robinson is starting to see other benefits to the service. For instance, to pick up renovation materials, Modo offers cube vans for rent, or a truck if a couch or two needs to be moved.

However, while she is embracing the use of alternative transportation methods, don't expect Ms. Robinson to be signing up to use Uber, if the disruptive transportation company ever comes to Vancouver.

"Things like Uber and even some of the one-way car shares, I feel like they're super convenient but [the people that use them] could probably just take the bus and so they're increasing transportation impact in terms of emissions and all of that," she says.

In Montreal, Vincent Dussault shares a similar story to Ms. Robinson, using a combination of Bixi bikes in the summer, public transit and car-sharing services such as Communauto and Car2Go to make his way around town and further afield with his wife and two sons.

While Mr. Dussault still technically owns a car, he has lent it to his sister for the past four years. Though he finds it easy enough to use the car-sharing services on offer, he says it's not always the easiest in Montreal.

"So far I've found it difficult in the winter to live without a car," he says. "My son is playing hockey, too, so maybe without hockey I would survive [more easily]."

Part of the reasoning for that is sometimes the car locations of available vehicles aren't always just around the corner, so he often takes a Bixi bike to go and pick up the vehicle.

Communauto, which was founded in Quebec in 1994 and operates in a number of cities, offers two different models in Montreal – a two-way sharing option and a one-way version called Auto-mobile, with which the car can be left anywhere within a certain area.

"I really like the fact that with Auto-mobile you can just leave the car in front of your house," Mr. Dussault says. "In Montreal where I live sometimes in summer there is a lot of congestion and just to bring back the car to the parking sometimes you are tired and happy to be home."

When it comes to savings, Mr. Dussault recorded his entire expenditure for September and October last year.

While the CAA website has the cost of owning a compact car in Quebec at $8,843, Mr. Dussault has found substantial savings by using communal transportation options.

Across the two months, he took 160 trips on Bixi, used 10 subway tokens, made 72 journeys with Communauto and another four with Car2Go. He also took one ride with Uber.

In terms of cost, September cost him $548, although that was partly because of a $160 rental of a BMW to drive to Shawinigan, while October cost him $274.

And as a fan of electrical cars such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, both of which are offered by Communauto, Mr. Dussault gets the opportunity to try out a number of different vehicles while cutting back on costs and emissions.

"Given the number of trips and the quality [of] cars, $274 per month to be able to move around as you like in Montreal, it's very little," he says.