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The Car-Sharing Option
There are lots of advantages to living in a city, especially the proximity to restaurants, theaters, museums and other social and cultural opportunities. But there are downsides, too, and car ownership may be one of them.
If you live in a large metropolitan area, you may have struggled with car ownership. On the one hand, owning a car is very expensive. You have to pay for parking, and you probably pay higher insurance rates and gas prices. If you don’t pay for parking, you have to find somewhere to park every night, which can be a hassle.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a car, how do you get around? Public transportation is great, but what if you want to bring home many bags of groceries or go visit your cousin in the suburbs? You could take a cab, of course, or borrow a car or ask someone to drive you.
In some cities, though, there is another option: car sharing. Car sharing started in Europe and is spreading to U.S. cities. Car-sharing companies offer membership fees that include access to a fleet of cars owned by the company. Usually you can sign up online for your car, and you can pick it up and return it to a lot or parking area. You don’t need to pay for gas or carry your own car insurance.
Car sharing is most common in major cities and around universities. The costs can vary considerably, and different companies have different arrangements for reserving and using the cars. The average for a four-hour trip ranges from less than $20 in Boulder, Colo., to about $40 in Madison, Wis. and Portland, Ore., according to carsharing.net, a non-profit site to promote car sharing in North America. Companies often offer a mix of small and larger cars, and some also offer luxury or “fun” cars like the Mini Cooper.
For a look at how car sharing works, consider I-GO, a car-share company in Chicago. Members pay a fee of $75 when they sign up, and $25 a year to renew their membership. They can make reservations online or by phone to pick up a car at any of several parking areas throughout the city and in some suburbs. Their I-GO key card opens the driver’s door, and then they enter their PIN to open the glove compartment and take out the key. The company covers insurance, maintenance and parking, and gives members a gas card to use to fill up the tank when it gets low. The company’s computers keep track of the hours members use a car, and members can choose from several billing options.
Some car-sharing proponents have no car at all, while others use the service to take the place of a second car. Before you decide to sign up for a service, though, make sure you will use the car enough to justify the cost. If you only need a car infrequently, it might make more sense to rent a car on those occasions.
Car sharing helps the environment as well as your wallet. According to carsharing.net, one shared car takes the place of six privately owned cars. As a result, of course, it creates about one-sixth the pollution, noise and traffic congestion. And that’s good news for everyone.