Dude, share my car? A look at peer-to-peer car sharing

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[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Last year Zipcar, the world’s largest car-sharing company, really got my goat with its “Sometimes you just need a car” ad campaign, featuring images of people looking miserable while pedaling to a meeting or riding the bus to a music gig. Fact is, my friends and I do these things all the time, and cyclists and transit users make up a big chunk of the company’s customer base. Why insult your clientele?

But Zipcar did have a point. Even sustainable-transportation blackbelts can use an automobile now and then for road trips, hauling cargo or giving rides to friends and family. Zipcar and I-GO, operated by the local nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, provide a great service to car-free Chicagoans by allowing us to include driving in our toolbox of travel options.

The new breed of peer-to-peer car-sharing companies takes a different approach by helping individuals rent directly from private car owners. This model may actually be a bit more eco-friendly, since it eliminates the need for the company to purchase a fleet of new vehicles and lease off-street parking spaces for them.

The peer-to-peer service Relay Rides, founded by Northwestern University grad Shelby Clark and based in San Francisco, opened in Chicago earlier this year and now operates in nineteen U.S. cities. Its competitor Getaround, also headquartered in San Francisco, launched here in September and currently serves Austin, San Diego and Portland, Oregon, as well. I recently called cofounder Jessica Scorpio to learn how the wheels of fortune spin.

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Are Smart cars smart? The pros and cons of microcars

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[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

It’s no secret that I dislike automobiles, or rather Chicago’s over-dependence on them. Privately owned autos, especially big ones, contribute to all kinds of problems in our region, including traffic deaths, congestion, climate change, obesity and urban sprawl. Car parking gobbles up valuable land, with Chicago’s on-street parking alone occupying an area roughly the size of Hyde Park, not to mention the hundreds of acres used for parking lots. The first Mayor Daley carved up the city with expressways and allowed Louis Sullivan masterpieces to be razed for garages, and an eight-lane superhighway cuts off residents from one of our city’s greatest assets, the lake shore.

On the other hand, there are understandable reasons why Chicagoans might want to purchase an auto, as opposed to occasionally renting one or using a car-sharing service. These include long commutes to distant neighborhoods or suburbs that might be daunting by other modes, the ability to give rides to friends and family, the need to haul gear around town, road trips to Wisconsin and more. I do believe there’s such a thing as responsible car ownership, and it’s possible to include driving, along with walking, cycling, transit and cabs, in your toolbox of transportation modes.

But a large percentage of Chicago car trips involve only one or two occupants. So for those who feel they need to own a car, could two-seat “microcars” like the Smart car, a Mercedes-Benz product, help mitigate some of the harmful aspects of driving? These tiny vehicles, measuring about eight feet long by five feet wide, go against the grain of America’s traditional “bigger is better” mentality.

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My first time driving a hybrid vehicle from I-GO Car Sharing

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On Saturday I needed to pick up a bunch of houseplants from a home improvement store and it seemed like it would be a hassle to carry them safely on my Fresh Air bicycle trailer. Also, after a lot of procrastinating, I recently got my Chicago Card Plus, which provides access to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and I-GO Car Sharing, replaced after the old one cracked and stopped functioning months ago. So this seemed like a good opportunity to try out my new card by checking out a vehicle from I-GO, the nonprofit service operated by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

When I logged onto the I-GO website, I noticed that there were a couple of locations near my home in Logan Square with standard Toyota Prius hybrid cars. I-GO also offers plug-in electric hybrid Priuses, which they say can get 100 mile-per-gallon for trips under forty miles. This results in up to two-thirds lower fuel costs and emissions than the standard Prius, I-GO says, but currently all of the plug-in hybrids are located downtown. The service also recently added several Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan LEAF electric cars to their fleet.

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Shifting view of car ownership driving younger users to car sharing

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I-GO member Angel Collazo. Photo by Kimiteru Tsuruta

This post was contributed by Kimiteru Tsuruta, a grad student at Nortwestern’s Medill Journalism School. During his time in Tokyo, Tsurata was amazed by the efficiency and coverage of its public transit system. He has a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Irvine, and now covers Chicago’s transportation news with the Medill News Service. This piece originally appeared on Medill Reports.

Practicality and economics may be the main reasons increasing numbers of people use car-sharing services, but there also seems to be an underlying shift in how young people perceive car ownership.

“Car-sharing members tend to have attitude,” said Joseph Schwieterman, professor of public service and director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University. “They see their lifestyle choices not only as a matter of just convenience, but as a rejection of the notion that a privately owned vehicle is important.” Continue reading Shifting view of car ownership driving younger users to car sharing

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Thoughts on car sharing and the folding car

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Rendering of the MIT CityCar by Franco Vairani. Post updated 9:57 to add commentary on parking. 

This morning, RelayRides will announce it is updating its system on how neighbors share cars. Before, only cars with OnStar and smart card systems could be used (like how I-GO and ZipCar operate now). The change is that anyone with a car can sign up to lend it, for as little as $5 per hour, using a key exchange: the owner and the renter arrange to transfer the key.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works in practice. I’m going to convince my roommates and friends to sign up their cars. Individual car ownership does not bode well for our society, economy, and environment. The kinds of cars we own have a less significant impact than how we drive them. How we drive is what makes our car culture. The one that costs us more than we can afford, pollutes the environment, and sustains a sedentary lifestyle. Continue reading Thoughts on car sharing and the folding car

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Gettin’ down at the I-GO Car Sharing members’ holiday party

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Even though I don’t use car sharing often, I’m very glad it exists. I live a block away from an I-GO Car Sharing location and I have a membership, but I can easily do almost all my commuting and errands by walking, biking and transit, carrying groceries and such in my bike’s saddlebags. Even if I need to move furniture or large items from the home improvement store I can haul most of these things with my large bike trailer.

So if I check out an I-GO vehicle it’s usually because I’m too lazy to hook up my trailer. As I wrote last week, other than road trips and transporting other people, the main reason I would use a car is to move fragile music gear to gigs. The by-the-hour pay scheme of car sharing makes it impractical for a trip where the car just sits outside the club for three hours while I rock out. (Any I-GO staffers reading this, please reply to this post to let me know if you guys actually offer a plan that makes sense for this kind of trip).

Continue reading Gettin’ down at the I-GO Car Sharing members’ holiday party

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