Car sharing, for those who aren’t familiar, is a program run by companies in urban areas lending affordable, readily available cars to members. Basically, it’s easy-access rental cars available by the hour or day. Cars are parked in lots all over the city, you reserve one online or over the phone, and you pick them up and drop them back off at the appointed time. Rather then having to pick up keys, cars are unlocked using an electric key card. The companies even provide special gas cards.
So what are the benefits? Well, if you are an occasional driver, it’s a huge money-saver – especially if you currently pay for parking. There’s no upkeep on the cars, no gas or insurance to pay. Along with an array of compact cars, there are also (at least, here in San Francisco) some small SUVs and pickups if you need to move some furniture or go to Ikea. Instead of being locked into owning a specific vehicle, you have a fleet to choose from depending on your needs for that particular trip.
The other major benefit? Car sharing is environmentally friendly. Most of the cars are high gas-mileage, low-emissions vehicles; some are even hybrids. Depending on the study, it’s estimated that each shared car replaces between 6 and 15 individually owned cars. As well as replacing car ownership entirely, it can be an alternative for families needing a second car. And, since you have to rent the car to take it out, it encourages members to use public transportation or walk for day to day errand running.
The main drawback is that car sharing is mostly restricted to urban areas. Currently, programs are available in most major U.S. cities (to view a fairly up-to-date list). The biggest factor in your ability to use car sharing is your accessibility to the cars. Being able to walk to a car is ideal, taking public transportation to a car may also work.
For me, car sharing has been great. Just getting around town without a car is not a problem here, but transporting furniture and going to beaches in nearby areas are harder to do. And it’s wonderful to be able to have an Element to move something one day and a Mini Cooper convertible to take on a scenic drive the next. The flexibility is something I would really miss were I to purchase a car.