After traveling around the world, I wanted to make some changes in my life. I guess you could say none are extremely huge changes (besides the whole chucking-it-all-and-traveling-the-world thing), but changes nonetheless.
About four years ago, I sold my little red Honda Prelude. During my travels, I vowed to not buy a car upon my return and ride my bike or take public transport nearly all the time. I find that in a city like Chicago, I simply just don’t need a car. But there are a few occasions when it would be helpful to have a set of wheels to lug some heavier or more cumbersome items. That’s where the awesomeness of car sharing comes in.
As folks are trying to be more environmentally conscious they are car-pooling more, some are buying hybrids, and there is a even a new and exciting platform allowing you to share your own car by renting it out. Relay Rides is a peer-to-peer car sharing service that is spreading across the US as a way to rent out your car when you don’t need it—allowing you to make money and also allowing someone without a car to ‘borrow’ yours for a fee. The growing popularity of car sharing is an exciting and good thing. In Chicago, there are two big options for this. “I-Go” is a non-profit environmental service that provides Chicagoans access to low emission cars on an hourly basis.
A second car sharing service that is available in most major cities across the nation is Zipcar. I had produced a TV segment on Zipcar several years ago and kept it in the back of my head as a great idea and something I hoped to do someday. Soon after my return to Chicago this spring, I came across a friendly street marketer handing out deals to join for an amazingly low price of just $25/year plus $25 in driving credits. So, basically join for free. I couldn’t pass it up.
How does it work?
The name says it all. You just go online, see the times available, reserve a car, walk over and boom! You are a driving machine. You zip into a parking lot, touch your trusty Zip Card to a sensor which unlocks the door, and you are ready to cruise. And there’s a gas card in the car and insurance included. No fuss. No muss (drop off the key, Lee and set yourself free).
There are parking lots nearly every half mile or so scattered all over town. There is a Zipcar just 4 houses down from my apartment. Perfect. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that. I can choose from smaller, economical low emission hybrids, some snazzier rides like a BMW or Mini or even a truck for hauling my junk/treasure.
If you need a couple hours to go shopping, Zipcar is perfect. If you need it to go visit relatives in the ‘burbs, Zipcar is perfect. The costs associated with owning a car in the city (or country) can be very high when you take into account fuel costs, large insurance bills, parking fees and permits, and routine or the dreaded unexpected maintenance costs.
Most Zipcars simply cost about $7 an hour and that includes gas and car insurance. That’s right…there is a pre-paid gas card in every vehicle allowing you to fill up whenever you need to at no extra cost. How sweet is that? So to break it down again, the annual fee is usually between $25-50 dollars and cars cost $7/hour. Period. No hidden costs or surprises. It’s that easy and it’s that good. I love it!
My first Zipcar experience:
I bought a used dresser on Craigslist and needed to find a way to haul the beast back to my flat. The perfect solution was to get a Zipcar pick-up truck and a friend. I went online and reserved the truck for 2 hours. My friend Brandy and I walked just 10 minutes to the Zipcar lot to pick it up. No truck. But we were a bit early. Then seven o’clock came and went. No truck. So far, I was a bit worried. Zipcar’s number one rule: Be on time. Since you are paying for the time and have a finite window of time, being prompt with your return is of the utmost importance. I called Zipcar ‘s number which was printed on the sign in the parking lot. As I was on phone, Mr. ‘Johnny-come-lately’ pulled up about 10 minutes late. The nice Zipcar operator gave me a free hour of time anyway since no one had it reserved after. Sweet! Too bad it was Sunday night and there was really nothing else I could do at that time. I could have asked for more time because she said no one had it until the morning, but I didn’t want to be greedy. Oh well.
After that first little glitch, it was awesome! I just love how Zipcar works. It’s simple and easy. We drove the Toyota Tacoma to the apartment of the dude with the dresser. I double parked and Brandy waited in the truck. Seller dude and I schlepped the dresser downstairs and onto the tailgate of the truck. Perfect. I handed him forty bucks and we were off. By the way, I sold the exact same model of Ikea dresser when I left the country 4 years ago. And here I was buying it again, but for less than I sold it. And I will probably sell it again when I leave my current apartment. I love the ‘re-using’ aspects that Craigslist provides.
We drove back to my place to unload with time to spare. So I also filled up the tank to be nice for the next driver. The gas card is in the car and you just have to enter your user id # and mileage. I drove back the Zipcar spot and returned the truck with about 20 minutes to spare and then walked home in 8 minute. Even if I just use a car for 2 hours it is still be cheaper than a round trip cab ride. Good for me. Good for the planet. Yay. And…