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).
Members of the local car-sharing community perform the Cha Cha Slide line dance
But car sharing makes a lot of sense for helping many other people become less dependent on car ownership. These are people who need to buy a couple weeks worth of groceries for their families, take a pet to the vet, pick up a couch from Craigslist, or countless other errands that they don’t feel comfortable doing by other modes, especially in inclement weather. I appreciate that car sharing decreases the amount of private vehicles on the road and reduces the need to pave more land for more parking spaces.
I’m especially fond of I-GO, since it’s a homegrown not-for-profit service run by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, based in Wicker Park. So when they invited me to their annual holiday celebration for members last night at the Merchandise Mart (222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza) I jumped at the chance to munch free cheesecake, groove to a DJ spinning Blondie, Kanye, and LCD Soundsystem, and mingle with fellow car sharers.
Entering the 15th floor space I find a surprisingly swinging party in progress with scores of people in attendance. Gazing out the window I’m awestruck by the breathtaking view of the river and skyscrapers along Wacker Drive. After taking a few laps around the room seeking out local green transportation luminaries with whom to shmooze, I buttonhole I-GO CEO Sharon Feigon for a quick interview.
Great party, but what’s the point? “I-GO is about making it possible to live well in Chicago without a car,” Feigon says. “When car ownership is part of your identity, there’s a mental shift you need to make when you give up your vehicle. We want people to feel like they’re part of a car-sharing community and we’re here to celebrate that.” The community-building effort seems to be working – there are two people here who met years ago at an I-GO party, got married and are now expecting a kid.
Feigon thinks Chicago’s car-free community will grow swiftly in the future. “Although the overall U.S. population is aging and Chicago’s population isn’t growing, the number of young people living here is getting larger,” she says. “And statistics shows that the number of young people getting drivers licenses is going down. They don’t want to own a car.” Feigon says employers are picking up on this and suburban companies are starting to move back to the city because the people they want to hire don’t want to have to drive to work.
“In spite of the economy I-GO has had a really good year,” she says. Grid Chicago readers like statistics, so I ask her for numbers to quantify their success. She says that in 2011 the company added 25 cars to its fleet and moved into four new neighborhoods. “Our goal is to serve all the neighborhoods in Chicago,” she says. According to a survey, 74% of I-GO members have sold a car or postponed a decision to buy one. On average, people who join the service drive less than before they joined, and they walk 23% more often than before, bike 14% more often and use transit 20% more often.
Next year I-GO plans to add 100 new cars, including 36 electric cars that will be partially fueled by solar panels installed by the parking spaces. They will expand to even more Chicago communities. “We currently serve 50% more neighborhoods that Zipcar,” Feigon says.
This segues nicely into my next question – did she notice the controversy over Zipcar’s recent ads that seemed to be ridiculing people who ride bikes to meetings, take public transit from the department store or get to a music gig by bus (which I’ve done more times than I care to remember)? “Those advertisements were outrageous,” she says. “They were really negative about public transit, so it’s remarkable that the CTA chose to run those ads in their train cars.”
Feigon needs to work the room, so I make my way back to the dance floor where a guy named Scott is doing an amazing dance tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” complete with moonwalking and crotch grabs, much to the delight of other attendees. As his audience applauds I grab my coat and head downstairs to my waiting bicycle. This party has been a “Thriller” but it’s time for me to “Beat It.”