In TerraPass’ continuing quest for new approaches to reduce auto-related carbon emissions, we’ve become fans of Flexcar’s car-sharing service. We have used Flexcar to travel to meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area when public transit wasn’t readily available or bicycling wasn’t practical. Maybe you have seen the blue and white logo on Flexcars (mostly small, fuel-efficient cars — 30% of which are hybrids) driving around in your city or parked in urban settings.
Car-sharing is a revolutionary way to think about automobile use with many environmental benefits. Instead of incurring the capital cost of buying a car and the substantial operating expenses (insurance, maintenance, gas, and parking), you just pay an hourly fee (about $8 per hour) for your driving trips. You make a Flexcar reservation online, pick up a car at a convenient location, and you’re on your way.
The U.S. Transportation Research Board reports that each car-sharing vehicle takes up to 15 private cars off the road. Seventy percent of respondents in a 2005 study said they postponed buying a car because of car-sharing. Half of those interviewed said car-sharing enabled them to sell an existing second car.
Taking cars off the road is a good thing. The savings in material costs and congestion are already a significant environmental benefit. But an important further consideration is how much actual fuel consumption is reduced by car-sharing.
Here also there are several reasons for encouragement. The first is that the average fuel economy of the Flexcar fleet is significantly higher than the average nationwide. The second is that the basic economics of car-sharing favor a reduction in driving. When you own a car, the major cost is sunk into the vehicle itself. Driving is relatively cheap. When you share a car, the vehicle is free — but you pay a fee for each trip.
This arrangement should encourage drivers to eliminate unnecessary trips, and indeed, surveys show that roughly half of Flexcar drivers report driving less after becoming members, with an average reduction of almost 40%.
Now Flexcar is partnering with TerraPass to balance the carbon emissions of its fleet. Starting this week, Flexcar members can sign up for a special Green Membership. For $9.95 per year, green members will reduce one ton of greenhouse gases through TerraPass’ support of wind farms, biomass, and landfill flaring projects. Flexcar has also offset its business operations. So consider swapping your car for a bicycle and a Flexcar membership. Car-sharing can be another powerful tool in the fight to address global warming.