Ditching my wheels

I’ve recently been wondering just how green the car sharing service I use actually is. The service is certainly convenient, but am I actually reducing my carbon footprint? It appears the answer may well be yes. A new study in England suggests that each shared car replaces on average 23 privately owned cars.

Further, car share participants take significantly fewer trips than car owners, opting instead to walk, bike, or use public transport. Finally, the shared car fleet examined in the study is significantly more fuel efficient than the average private vehicle in the UK. It’s reasonable to suppose that the environmental benefits of car sharing translate to an American context.

Since moving back to San Francisco from overseas in 2007, I’ve opted to go car free. I’m fortunate to live in a city with good (sorry MUNI, can’t quite say great) public transportation, great walkability and easy access to car sharing.

For me, car free has also been care free. Where once I used to spend up to half an hour trying to park near my house, my car share is now a two minute walk away and there is always a space. I don’t pay for gas or maintenance, which used to get costly in my (very) old pickup truck. And there is a fantastic selection of vehicles to get different jobs done.

In fact, when making my most recent apartment move, having a large car sharing lot nearby was a key consideration. I certainly make fewer car trips now, instead opting to walk or take public transit to most places in the city. We have gone from a two car household to a zero car household. I am sure that we would have buckled and purchased a car by now if not for car sharing. If you’re a member of a car sharing service, chime in an let us know how you’ve maximized the experience.

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  1. Chad - May 27, 2009

    The sad thing is that there are only a half-dozen cities in the country with good enough public transportation to make this lifestyle viable.

  2. Rebecca - May 27, 2009

    I recently ditched my car when I moved to D.C. After realizing that D.C.’s public transit system rivals or surpasses every city in the U.S. (not nearly as encompassing as New York, of course, but D.C. is much smaller and more walkable) and that I could see more ZipCars from my house than open parking spaces, the choice was easy. I’ve also noticed that my stress level is lower now that I don’t have to battle traffic or buy gas.
    I should add that although I take comfort in knowing I have the car sharing service, I almost never use it. Kudos to people who put farmer’s markets and Whole Foods near metro stops.

  3. megacleve - May 27, 2009

    For us non-car sharing people, how exactly does this stuff work? How can you not pay for gas? Who does? What about car insurance? Car seats for children? I know the benefits of car sharing, but I just can’t wrap my head around how this stuff gets taken care of.

  4. Adam Stein - May 27, 2009

    Meg — probably best to get it from the horse’s mouth:
    http://www.zipcar.com/how/
    But in a nutshell, you use a keycard to unlock the cars, which allows the service to track the time of your usage. Then you pay an hourly rate that covers insurance and gas. It’s surprisingly handy.

  5. Hailey - May 27, 2009

    I don’t live in an area that has car sharing easily available, but I think going car-less is much easier than most people want to accept. I live in Pasadena, CA, which is not necessarily known for its public transportation system. However, I can easily walk to almost everything I could ever want or need, and can take the bus or metro to anything else. However, I have found that people here are extremely prejudice against the bus. They think that the bus is somehow dangerous, or gross, but its really fine. I take it everyday for work. I understand that not all places are like this, but I think that if people really made the effort, most people could make the switch to carless.

  6. EM - May 27, 2009

    I would LOVE to have the option of car-sharing and live in a place (Davis, CA) that would likely embrace it in a huge hug. However, Davis – maybe the most cycle-friendly city in America – is apparently just too small (a bit over 60,000) to host a car-sharing program. We can bike, walk or bus around Davis; take a bus to nearby Woodland or to the airport; and easily take the train to Sacramento or the Bay Area. However, if I want to go to Costco in Vacaville or tango in Sacto in the evening, I have to have my own car. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions on how Davis could get a car-sharing program? Thanks!

  7. Arna Caplan - May 29, 2009

    Great! Our son Bill ditched his mini-van almost 2 years ago. He lives in Madison, which has a fantastic bike trail system. He belongs to a community car share, bought a bike that can carry 6 bags of groceries, and is managing very well with 2 kids and a dog, one car and bikes for the whole family. He bikes to work year-round, his wife often walks to work in good weather, and their aging car is used very sparingly.

  8. Tami - May 30, 2009

    Born in 1961, I have never bothered to get a license or car. Been working all my life and raised 3 boys. Live in a small town (50,000) in washington state. Use the bus, and walk everywhere. Do the rental car for vacations and to go see family.

  9. Sue | Air Conditioning - June 17, 2009

    This is a great idea, but this would never work here in South Africa unfortunately, I just wish that we had a transport system like those overseas it would make traveling to and from work so much less of a hassle.