6.14.2013 | The future is car-free(ish)

"So what's the deal with this Zipcar thing?" So asked an electrician standing behind the bar where I was about to get into a car to run a grocery errand. After hearing the $10 hourly rate, he suggested I get a scooter. But that's not very handy for groceries. And, unfortunately, neither is transit—quick errands can become a journey when suffering bus lines don't run often enough, especially here in the East Bay.

Where transit leaves a hole, Zipcar steps in. For less than the cost of taking a taxi one-way, I can have a car for an entire hour, one I didn't have to clean or maintain. 150 miles of daily driving are included, as well as unlimited gas, and insurance. For a weekend jaunt to Fresno I rented from Enterprise, and it ended up costing about what a Zipcar would have at the daily rate. With no rental counter to deal with, this is serious convenience. I've been won over.

And I'm not alone. Car sharing is on the rise across the continent, and around the world. For the first time, more people got rid of cars than bought them. Why? Most people don't need a car most of the time—The average car is used just one hour a day and costs hundreds a month to maintain. By using transit for most trips and limiting my car use to quick, occasional errands, I'm able to cut that budget in half. I get to walk to work most days, taking my savings even further. And sometimes I go for late-night joy rides when everyone else is asleep, and carsharing services charge even lower rates. Car sharing takes care of most of the reasons I need to own a car.

Sure, I'm a young professional. But with transit-oriented development taking hold in other parts of the country, families can reap the benefits too, and see their budget fall even more (by two-thirds).

There are times you might need a car in only one direction. Car 2 Go isn't in the Bay Area yet, but for now there's Uber X, which recently announced lower fares to compete with taxis. For $8 one-way for short trips, it's not a bad deal when you need to press the fast-forward button on a journey.

These costs may seem high to someone used to budgeting for a car. But with more room in your budget to play with, other possibilities open up. And in more sense than one, that's the beauty of change.

Edit: All these services are made possible by smartphones and the sharing economy they've enabled. And lest we give up on transit, a new service in San Francisco has taken that principle and launched a transit system of their own. Let's hope they go far!

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