31 - 2009

Car sharing – borrow your second (or first!) car

The other day a new sight caught my eye: A car emblazoned with “” I have heard of car sharing in other communities — and seen it in traditional hippie towns like Boulder, Colo., and Taos, N.M. — but so far it hasn’t been available in my hometown.

Now, however, e-Go Carshare has launched a mini-fleet of two hybrid vehicles in Denver (in addition to operations in nearby Boulder). The Occasional Car Club will soon join them. Both boast that they have cars “in your neighborhood!” of Capitol Hill, a busy apartment-laden area in central Denver where residents are young and parking options are slim. For most of us in a city that houses Colfax Avenue, known as the longest street in the U.S., it’s not exactly our neighborhood. But it is a great start to a new transportation option.

What is car sharing?

Carsharing lets people rent cars by the hour or the day as needed, instead of owning a car that isn’t used frequently. Cars are newer vehicles, usually fuel-efficient cars or hybrids, as well as some specialty vehicles like pickup trucks (or in the case of Occasional Car, BMWs).

Car shares have membership requirements so that drivers are pre-registered and pre-approved. The shared vehicles are covered by insurance and are maintained by the carshare company.

Drivers might pay a monthly membership fee and an application fee to join the group. They must have a good driving record. Then they pay by the hour or day, and usually by the mile as well. Those fees include all costs such as maintenance, insurance and fuel.

Carsharing sounds great for people who live in cities and only need a car sometimes. We have two cars, but our old Toyota, “Bessie,” is having some problems. Mr. Cheap has been taking the bus to work, which isn’t cost-effective if we’re paying for a second car, although it is environmentally sound and better for his health than driving, because it rolls some walking into his day.

I can imagine not having that second vehicle and using a carshare vehicle for the occasional instances when I have an event in one part of town, and Mr. Cheap and Mlle. Cheap need to do something else, or vice versa.

Is it cost effective?

For people who only use a car occasionally, owning a car is a hard pill to swallow. Occasional Car has statistics on its site that say car ownership averages $7,000 to $8,000 annually — easy to imagine if a car payment is $300 or more monthly, gas and insurance run another $300, and maintenance adds up.

Here’s how costs work in our area:

  • Occasional Car has several plans that range from $3.50 an hour with a $30 monthly fee ($360 annually) to $10 an hour with a $50 annual fee. Using a car once a month for a full Saturday would cost $81 per month — gas and insurance included — on the Occasionally “Hip” plan. Driving a few errands for three hours twice a month on weekdays would run $46 per month plus 24 cents a mile.
  • At the nonprofit e-Go, members can choose to pay a $10 monthly fee for lower rates, or pay as they go with higher hourly rates. One Saturday a month would cost $59 to $75 depending on the vehicle. Running errands twice a month would cost $25 to $39 per month. e-Go’s mileage rate is $0.30 per mile; the full-day rentals include 100 free miles.

In our case, we don’t have a car payment on old Bessie. We do pay an annualized average of $125 monthly in gas, insurance and maintenance. Mr. Cheap’s bus pass for work would cost $58, for a difference of $67.

Assuming we could always get a carshare vehicle when we needed one, once-a-month or errand usage looks like it would be very cost-effective. It is about the same cost as renting a car for a day, or less; however, you get to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle. If you live very urban area and do not own a car at all — and therefore do not have insurance that covers a rental car — the insurance savings over a rental vehicle would be significant.

Of course, we would lose convenience, because we would have to get to the car when we need it, and the more you use, the more you pay, unlike your own car. Carsharing also offers intangible benefits, like being able to use a pickup when needed.

Find out more

Obviously, carsharing only works in urban areas, where density allows people to easily move vehicles between them.

If you’re interested in finding car sharing near you, has more information and a directory of car share vendors.

Have you tried carsharing? Would you? Let us know what you think!

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