For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve had my own car. That must be why, at 40 years old, it’s hard to part with the one I have now. The decision has been made in my head — on paper it makes so much sense. But my heart is dragging its feet a little.
My practical, efficient Volvo has been our sole car for the last five years — an experiment in simple living, you could say. That’s when we moved to Sweden, into a house 300 yards from the train station and an easy bike ride away from the grocery store. The move enabled us to sell my husband’s car and use the money to pay off some student loans.
Now we are moving back to the U.S., and the two-car dilemma has returned as well. Without even really thinking about it, the need for another car came up like a knee-jerk reaction: “He’ll need a car to commute, and I’ll need one to tote groceries and our toddler around,” I thought. I wasn’t alone in that thinking, of course. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 1.92 cars per American household in 2009.
Hooray for car-sharing programs
However, what I didn’t realize until very recently was that while we were learning about umlauts and socialism, car-sharing programs took off in the U.S.
When my husband joined in on the keep-it-or-sell-it debate, he mentioned a car-sharing program he had learned about in his Swedish sustainability graduate program: Zipcar. The concept is pretty simple — you pay a small annual fee to enroll in the program, and then an hourly rate every time you borrow a car. Zipcar has cars scattered across 11 U.S. cities, and you can book one near you over the phone or Internet. In fact, a Toyota Prius Zipcar sits right outside our apartment building in Portland, Ore. This made our vehicle downsizing decision a lot less painful. (If Zipcar doesn’t exist near you, try Relay Rides, Getaround, I-Go or City Carshare.)
Not your typical car rental
Sure, car rental companies have existed in rural and urban areas for a long time. So how is this different?
- Gas is free, and you don’t need to fill up before returning the car.
- Insurance is free.
- Reserve minutes in advance.
- 180 free miles instead of unlimited free miles.
- No one-way rentals.
- Will a car always be available? Zipcar says yes, although I wonder what happens when someone has the one Zipcar allocated to our neighborhood.
- Four-day maximum rental (no long Zipcar road trips!).
- Only offered in high-population areas.
- No open-ended plans. You need to have the Zipcar back when you say you will have it back.
With our lifestyle, I’m not sure a Zipcar could be our only car. But since my husband is able to use public transportation to commute, I see it as a great option if he needs the car occasionally for out-of-office work travel, and I need to run an errand or visit a friend.
So as I get back to writing that “car for sale” ad, is anyone else thinking of taking the plunge into one-car family life?