I don’t own a car, and I’ve never wanted one. The expense alone is a deterrent: I pay less in one year for all my transportation costs (excluding cross-country flights) than one of my co-workers would spend on a parking space alone. I can do this because I walk almost everywhere, taking the occasional bike trip, bus ride or cab. Most days I have no use for a car, but for the times when it would really make a difference, I have a car share membership.
The car sharing model is perfect for my situation. I don’t like driving, so I don’t miss it. I live in the urban core of a small, pedestrian-friendly city (Halifax, Nova Scotia). I don’t have kids to travel with, and I don’t have to leave the city very often.
The service I use is called CarShareHFX. They have a few plans to choose from, depending on how much you’ll be driving. For my plan I pay a $39 yearly membership fee, and trips are charged by kilometer ($0.17, which works out to about $0.11/mile) and also by either the hour ($5.95) or day ($59.50). The price includes gas, insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance. There are 19 cars available to book, and six are within a 15-minute walk of my apartment.
I use my membership a couple times a month during the summer, and once a month or less during the winter. My trips usually fall into one of three categories:
• Hauling heavy or bulky stuff: transporting furniture, getting all my crap to various donation bins in one go, stocking up on 40-pound boxes of cat litter. This kind of trip usually costs me between $15 and $20.
• Getting out of the city: a day trip to go hiking (~$75), or a half-day trip to the beach (~$40) a few times a summer.
• Things that I could do on the bus or by bike but are way less hassle with a car: taking my cat to the vet; trekking out to “big box land,” a pedestrian unfriendly business park, to buy discount craft supplies; meeting people at the airport (between $20-$30).
There are still some situations where I wish I had a car but car sharing isn’t practical. One-way trips, or time-consuming errands where the car would be parked for most of the time aren’t really cost-effective. It would be convenient for getting to my twice-weekly roller derby practice on the fringes of town, but even when splitting the cost with teammates, it’s far cheaper for everyone to ride with someone who’s already taking their own car and only have to split the cost of gas. I can’t use it to go anywhere if I don’t know when I’ll be getting back. It took me awhile to get used to estimating exactly how long my trips were going to take. I can call and extend my reservation mid-trip if I’m running late, but only if the car I’m using hasn’t been booked by someone else. Being late could mean screwing someone over.
There are also some hidden costs to the almost-car-free lifestyle. In addition to the obvious (bus and cab fare, chipping in to carpool, bike gear and maintenance), I find I have more clothing costs. I pay a lot of money for good rain gear that can withstand my half-hour walk to work. Since I started walking everywhere, I have far less tolerance for cheap, uncomfortable shoes, and I have to replace or repair even good quality footwear more often.
Having access to a car part-time sometimes makes me wish I had one full-time. It’s a nice buffer between me and the world, and it means I don’t have to plan my trips around what I can carry. When I first get behind the wheel, the city seems to shrink instantly, and the idea that I can be somewhere in 10 minutes that would normally take me an hour is enticing. That is, until I get into rush hour traffic or have to circle to find a parking space, or find myself navigating icy roads with clenched fists. I never have to worry that a mechanic is overcharging me, or go out in the middle of winter to move the car when the snow ploughs are out. A car is a responsibility, one that’s not worth the hassle for me. I always feel relieved when I drop it off and walk away.