If you live in Los Angeles, you’ll spend $9,254 a year to drive a 2000 Ford Taurus, or about $25 a day. In Philadelphia, owning a standard sedan sets you back about $8,715 a year, and in Providence, Rhode Island, it costs $8,633. In addition to the high cost of owning a car, if you live in a city, the hassles of parking, insurance, and crime outweigh the convenience. Cars for every person also take a toll on the environment. But maneuvering an armload of groceries on public transportation is no picnic.
That’s where car sharing comes in. An estimated 150,000 people in 450 European cities participate in car sharing organizations, according to CarSharing.net, which maintains an international list of car sharers. The concept originated in Switzerland in 1948 and gained popularity in Europe in the late 1980s. Today, car-sharing organizations exist from Seattle to Singapore.
Boston-based Zipcar was launched in June 1999 with just three cars and fifteen members. Six months later, Zipcar has thirty-five cars and 550 members and is expanding to the Washington, D.C., area. The largest organizations in the United States are Oregon-based CarSharing Portland and Seattle-based Flexcar.
Shared cars can be borrowed for as little as an hour. Car sharing works best in areas with a high population density, both residential and commercial property, and a good transit system, says Michelle Garland, a founding member of DC CarShare, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Every car shared replaces seven to eight private cars, says Robin Chase, Zipcar co-founder and CEO. “In Boston, average car insurance is $1,200 a year. You can drive fifteen hours a month in a Zipcar for the price of car insurance alone,” she adds.
A Zipcar membership (six-month minimum) requires a $25 application fee, $75 annual fee, and $300 fully refundable security deposit. Members pay $4.50 to $7 an hour and forty cents a mile to drive the cars. Included in the membership fees are gas, maintenance, insurance, and parking. When you need a car, you log onto Zipcar’s website, choose one of thirty-three parking locations around Boston, and view a two-month schedule for the car of your choice. It takes about thirty seconds to make a reservation, says Chase. At the appointed time, you walk or take the subway to one of the off-street municipal or school lots where the cars are parked and swipe your Zipcard on the windshield to unlock and start the car. “The number one reason members like it is because it’s so convenient,” says Chase. Zipcar maintains, fuels, and cleans the fleet of Volkswagen Beetles, Golfs, and Passat station wagons regularly.
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