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2005 07 28
Getting Around

It seems if given the opportunity, people will opt for renting, borrowing, or sharing, over buying. When you need to use something just once or very infrequently most people, if they could, would rather borrow the item than buy it. More than just being economical, it's logical for all sorts of obvious reasons. But if the opportunity isn't there and if buying something is more convenient, then we will happily reach for our wallets. The growth of limited-use or disposable products is troubling evidence of this.

The same can be said of how we choose to get around. All things equal, if we have a choice, we opt for convenience all of the time. Having your own car or bicycle is definitely way more convenient than waiting for a streecar or hunting for a cab. Sometimes if's even necessary, or the alternatives are completely impractical or very expensive. Having your own means it's always there when you need it. But what if we could easily share?

Bike shares have been around for quite sometime, especially in Europe where they are a familiar site. They work, because there's enough bikes circulating around the city, that one never needs to go far to find a bike waiting for them. They prove, if made really convenient, people will opt for not owning.

Now, what about cars? People are familiar with renting a car or calling a cab. But the idea of economically renting a car for an hour or two is still inconceivable to most. Living downtown and being minutes away from work I rarely need to use a car. Like most, when the need did arise it seemed the only choices were very expensive or impractical. So when I discovered Autoshare a year ago, I thought it was too good to be true. For around $6 an hour, members can borrow a car from one hour to a whole day. They have a fleet of over 80 cars throughout the city ranging from Toyota Corollas to Dodge Caravans, and most recently they now have a Toyota Prius and a few Smart Cars. The great thing is as they grow they continue to update the fleet with newer cars at more locations. Where I happen to live when I first signed up there were 2 cars available within a 5 minute walk; today there are 5 including one Smart Car.

So how does it work? Assuming you have a driver's license and a clean driving record, all you need to do is pay a one time deposit of $500 to become a member (should you ever want to cancel your membership, the full deposit is returned to you). As a basic member, you'd then only have to pay when you decide to borrow a car (they have other membership levels which entitle you to lower per hour rates and other advantages for a small monthly fee). The cost of borrowing a car covers insurance and even the gas. Should you need to refill during your trip, Autoshare will credit you the full amount. To book a car, the easiest way is through their website. You can quickly see what cars are available and when. I'd say about 90% of the time when I want to take out one of the cars in my neighbourhood one is available. This even includes spur of the moment times, like last night at 7:00 when I had to get more paint primer for my new office and had to make a quick run to Home Depot. Much cheaper than a cab, and I was able to work in a few other errands so it was almost as convenient as if I had my own car.

Is it for everyone? Probably not. For example, you can only borrow a car for at most a 24-hour period at a time. Also, you can't leave the province, since their insurance policy only has coverage within Ontario. But as Autoshare grows, the case for becoming a member gets more compelling. Is it a cure for the city's traffic and smog problems? It's not a panacea, but I think it has the potential to have a meaningful impact. Because of how it is setup, I don't feel compelled to use a car all of the time. On average I take out a car twice a month, yet my use of the TTC hasn't diminished and I still end up walking most of the time to get where I need to. On the other hand, if I owned a car, I'd probably try to use it as often as I could. So in this sense it's not promoting more car use, just smarter car use.

Who hasn't gone to the library, borrowed a neighbour's tool, used a friend's computer? So, why not share a car?
[email this story] Posted by Gilbert Li on 07/28 at 02:18 AM

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