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Ride the Network: An Introduction to Car Sharing

“If you live in a city, you don’t need to own a car.” So said William Clay Ford Jr.,
the CEO of Ford Motor Company, and that’s a pretty striking statement, especially from someone who is in the business of selling cars. About 75% of us in North America live in cities, and many of us don’t really drive enough to justify the expense of car ownership — from the gas to the insurance to upkeep and depreciation, it really adds up — but we don’t want to give up the freedom to be able to hop behind the wheel when we need to go somewhere the bus or other mass transit doesn’t go, have some special shopping to do, or need to run an errand that only a car can do. If this description sounds like you, we have a solution: car sharing.

Car sharing provides you flexible, instant access to a network wheels whenever you need them, 24 hours a day, without long-term commitments. The Car Sharing Network [www.carsharing.net] describes it thusly: “the freedom of owning your own car, as easy as hailing a cab, as affordable as a latte, faster than renting, and let’s you kick the car habit.” It might sound too good to be true, but it really works, and, when you consider that you don’t pay for gas or insurance and may not even have to hunt for parking spots (as many have reserved spots around town).

Once you’re signed up with a company like Zipcar [www.zipcar.com], which is in the process of merging with Flexcar [www.flexcar.com], it’s really quite easy. You can reserve cars online; once you have input where you are and how long you need it, head to the car and put in an access code or, in the case of Zipcar, just flash your card to the windshield, and, since it’s been told to expect you, the car lets you in. You drive off, do what you gotta do, and bring it back when you’re done for another user to cruise.

While it’s not a new concept, certainly — it started back in 1987 in Switzerland — car sharing has really taken off in the past few years here in the States, and will only continue to grow as gas prices continue their steady climb. And it’s no tiny industry now; as of January 1, 2007,18 U.S. car sharing programs claimed 134,094 members sharing 3,637 vehicles, and 13 Canadian car sharing programs claimed 21,817 members sharing 994 vehicles (this according to the Car Sharing Network [www.carsharing.net]). To see if car sharing has made it to your town (and if anyone is planning to start soon), check out this list [www.carsharing.net] and stay tuned for more on car sharing this week.