I borrowed a Zipcar with Ali and Christina today.
I heard about the program a couple years ago and was quite excited about it. In 2006, they introduced some cars at The University of Rochester (Elmwood Ave. at Intercampus Dr.) and I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was only for people affiliated with the university. The other week I was listening to Car Talk and they mentioned Zipcar again so, on a whim, I checked out the site.
The cars were indeed still at the UofR and I clicked to join. This time, I got as far as the page where they asked for my credit card information and noted that I had not been asked about working for the UofR. I called and they confirmed that the program is now open to anyone so I finished signing up.
Zipcar is a car sharing program. It costs about $50/year to be part of the program. In Rochester, there are 5 cars (4 parked at the UofR river campus and the other parked at The Eastman School of Music (26 Gibbs St.)) Each one costs $7 per hour or $60 per day to use — insurance, gas, and 180 miles for each calendar date the car is reserved are included.
I decided to crunch some numbers to see if that's reasonable. I've owned my now-dying Civic for 15 years now. Figuring everything I spent on it, it's cost $0.26/mile for its 170,434 miles or about $3,000 per year. On average each year, it's been about $500 for gas, $500 for insurance, and $650 for repairs and service. However, I've changed my driving habits and last year I only drove about 4,000 miles, so that works out to an ongoing cost of about $0.41/mile. If I estimate an average of 40 miles/hour overall, I only drove the Civic for about 100 hours last year.
Taking the $1,650 annual cost against the $7/hour cost of Zipcar, that's about 235 hours; the daily rate works out to 27 days. In other words, if I get rid of the Civic altogether, I can break-even with Zipcar as long as I stay under 235 hours in a year. As I said, I changed my driving habits and try to do as much as I can by bike — or avoid trips altogether — so it doesn't seem particularly difficult.
The idea behind car sharing is that you don't need a car per se. Almost all the time it's just moving people from one place to another — you only really need a car if you're hauling things. Of course, if you have small children, it's much more convenient to have a car, but you might be able to get away with one car instead of two in a household.
So anyway, I tried it out. I reserved the Honda Element named "Eastman" for a couple hours. Since it's generally used by college students, it was … well … a lot like a college student's car: kind of a disgusting mess inside, what with a McDonald's bag, garbage, and food all over the place. I suspect it was as bad as it gets because nobody wanted to clean it all winter.
But overall it was a pretty easy process. In the future, I'll bike to the pick-up location rather than take the 20-minute walk and just lock my bike nearby for retrieval when I return the car. (That's another thing: you can't do one-way trips — you have to return the car from the place you found it when you're done.) For now I'll hold onto the Civic (and don't forget we also have the wagon) until it fails to pass inspection later this year.