By Kevin L. Nichols and sons
Going GreenOne can assume that most Bay Area families own either one or two automobiles.
Many people rent cars for a myriad of reasons. Some rent them for longer trips or if they need more space, while others rent cars to prevent further wear and tear on their own cars. Some want the comfort of driving a newer vehicle with more technological amenities, such as GPS and satellite radios.
Having these luxuries, however, can get expensive. Not to mention, some people want to reduce their carbon footprint and improve the environment. Moreover, what about those who only need a car for a few hours and do not want to pay for gas, additional auto insurance and the increased depreciation on their vehicle? Many turn to car sharing.
Going GreenCar sharing is not a new concept, but it is growing very popular here in the Bay Area. In conjunction with the recent “going green” philosophy, this phenomenon allows individuals to rent cars for a short period of time, such as one to three hours, for a fraction of the cost of owning a car or renting a car from a traditional car rental company. In addition to a $6 to $12 hourly rate depending on what car is chosen, gas and insurance is included in the rental price. Unlike most rental car companies, these cars are usually eco-friendly cars (either hybrids or low emission/ good gas mileage vehicles). This service provides its members with 24/7-access to a fleet of unattended vehicles from convenient locations, such as BART stations or parking lots in urban areas. Two leaders in this industry are local companies named City Car Share and Zipcar.
Both companies offer a seamless process to get you in a vehicle as quickly and efficiently as possible. You can fill out a simple application online or over the phone, pay a nominal registration/membership fee and then you will either receive either a “fob” (City Car Share) or an electronic “key” (Zipcar), much like a credit card, that unlocks the doors of the each vehicle at the time of your reservation. Then you reserve the vehicle of your choice at the location of your choice. All cars are required to have at least a half of a tank of gas in them and are equipped with credit cards to replenish it before you return the vehicle. It’s also nice to have an adapter in each vehicle for your iPod.
Recently, my two boys, ages 5 and 8, and I test drove both and here is what we thought of our experience:
City Car Share
Our first introduction to the car sharing concept was with City Car Share. Its mission is “to improve the environment and quality of life in the Bay Area by promoting car sharing as a means to reduce automobile dependence, ownership and usage.”
We picked up a 2006 Honda Element at the North Berkeley BART Station. This probably was not the appropriate vehicle to test drive since the rear seats were harnessed on the ceiling when we arrived. With two small rambunctious boys, patience was not on our side. Nevertheless, we figured out how to readjust the seats and were on our way.
The process was seamless. One fact that resonated with us was that City Car Share is the only nonprofit car sharing organization, is certified green, has affordable rates and offers discounted rates to other nonprofit/community-based organizations.
Zipcar’s slogan says that they “are redefining the way people think about transportation.” They offer a range of fun cars such as Mini-Coopers to premium BMW 300 series.
We test drove a hybrid Nissan Altima and my boys loved it immensely. None of us could hear the engine and felt that we were definitely doing our part of reducing congestion by sparing the environment from another low gas mileage/gas guzzling vehicle on the road. The reservation process was simplistic and the vehicle was practically brand new.
Overall, the car sharing concept is a reasonably priced alternative to owning a vehicle if you live near a metropolitan area with a sophisticated public transportation system. According to City Car Share, “the American Automobile Association estimates that the nationwide average monthly cost of owning a car is $500” per month, so $50 to $60 a month for car sharing is a viable option.
For more information about car sharing, visit www.citycarshare.org and www.zipcar.com.
Kevin L. Nichols is an author and the president/CEO of KLN Publishing, LLC, located in San Francisco. For more information, www.klnpublishing.com.
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Insurance companies are joining the fun as well. Farmers Insurance Group offers a discount for alternative fuel vehicles.
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