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Do you have a small car and occasionally need a larger one? Do you live in a city and don't drive enough to justify the expense of owning, licensing, insuring and parking a car?

Car sharing is an energy-saving idea whose time has come! North Americans are starting to see the benefits of “no car ownership hassles” which many Europeans have already known. Car share programs are in place in many European cities, serving more than 150,000 members. These programs are now springing up across North America.

Benefits of Car Sharing

  • Convenient: Car shares provide a car when you need one. Some programs have various models to suit your changing needs. Some motorists also use car shares as a ‘second car’.
  • Practical: Car sharing reduces number of cars in the city; it also reduces car usage of individuals by as much as 50%.
  • Environmental: Sharing a vehicle improves air quality. Each car share vehicle replaces four to eight privately held cars.
  • Low Cost: When sharing a car, you pay only for the hours you drive; that’s a fraction of the cost of owning a car and is definitely cheaper than owning a car if you need a car for fewer than 7500 miles(12,000 km)/year.
  • Carefree: There’s no maintenance, no servicing, virtually no parking hassles, and no cleaning.

How does car sharing compare to car rental? Car rentals cost between $40 and $50 a day, plus more charges for mileage and insurance. Car sharing is less expensive because you can rent by the hour, you have reserved parking locations, there are no line-ups or papers to fill out, and no pick-up or drop-off constraints. Availability of vehicles, however, is not guaranteed to match your time requirements.

Car-sharing services can get pricey for people who drive long distances or take the car on an overnight trip. But for people who just need to go to the grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, or visit a friend out of town, car sharing can be cheaper than renting a car.

How Car Sharing Works

  • Reserve by phone or online; there’s usually a one hour minimum up to two months in advance (Some services require as little as one minute’s advance notice, and members can reserve vehicles as far as one year in advance. Consult individual websites for details.)
  • Unlock the car with your personal card or key.
  • Drive away.
  • Return to a specific carshare location before your reservation time expires.
  • Leave the car as clean as you found it.

The carshare company owns and insures all its cars, which are parked at convenient locations around town. You can pick up a car, with some carshare programs, and drop it off at any carshare location when you’re finished. (Other carshare programs do not allow members to take one-way trips with the vehicles, because the next member who has reserved that vehicle is expecting it to be returned to its starting location.)

You pay only for the hours you’ve had the car. Gas, oil, and car maintenance are paid by the company; members are issued a company credit card for these costs. If the car is already booked, members either have to take an alternate car, or wait until the car they usually drive is available.

The only rule is to get the car back on time. Carshares charge a late fee, usually around $20, and drivers who are consistently late lose their membership.

What Does it Cost?

Annual memberships can be as little as $7 per month (or $70 per year). Some carshare programs require a security deposit. Other programs have no security deposit requirement; consult individual websites for details. Usage fees range from $7-10 per hour.

Where to Find a Car Share Near You

United States

  • ZipCar – National
  • Car2Go – National
  • City CarShare – Serving San Francisco and the greater Bay area with a fleet of over 200 cars. Cars have automatic transmissions. www.sfcarshare.org. As a City CarShare member, you get driving privileges in other cities, such as Philadelphia, Austin, Madison, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Syndey (AU) and Melbourne (AU).
  • eGo CarShare – Boulder city-wide carshare program. eGo CarShare (formerly Boulder Car Share) now stations vehicles throughout the Denver – Boulder area.
  • Enterprise Car Share – Enterprise Car Share is National.
  • Hourcar – Serving Minneapolis and St. Paul MN with a fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids and Toyota Yaris cars.
  • Buffalo Car Share – Serving the greater Buffalo area.
  • Community Car – Serving Madison WI with high gas mileage and hybrid vehicles.
  • Car Share Vermont – Serving the greater Burlington area and University of Vermont campus.
  • Ithaca Car Share – 13 vehicles serving downtown Ithaca, two college campuses, and at EcoVillage.

Canada

  • CommunAuto – Serving Montreal, Sherbrooke, Gatineau and Quebec.
  • MODO – Primarily serving Vancouver.
  • ZipCar – Currently serving Toronto ON and Vancouver BC.
  • VRTUCAR – A car-share service that offers members 24 hour access to a fleet of cars stationed conveniently around Ottawa.
  • AutoShare Car Sharing Network – Gives members 24-hour access to a fleet of cars stationed at over 100 locations around Toronto. www.autoshare.com

  • The People’s Car Cooperative – Provides car sharing in the Waterloo, Ontario region. www.peoplescar.org
  • CarShare HFX – Serving the Halifax peninsula and downtown Dartmouth, NovaScotia. Drivers are also offered free parking in dedicated lots on the Halifax waterfront.
  • Grand River/Hamilton Car Share – Grand River Car Share operates a fleet of 12 vehicles located throughout Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge. Hamilton Car Share provides self-serve access to a fleet of 3 vehicles (and growing) located in West Hamilton.
  • Car2Go – National.

Australia and New Zealand:

  • Cityhop – New Zealand’s first car sharing company, operating in Aukland, Wellington, Christchurch Airport and New Plymouth.
  • GoGet Australia – Australia’s first national car sharing network, operates in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.
  • Flexicar – Now serving Melbourne, Sydney, Brunswick, St. Kilda, Fitzroy, Carlton, Manly and Surry Hills.

Europe and the UK

  • European Car Sharing – Umbrella organization for five car sharing companies in Europe. ECS currently has 40 participants, who operate shared cars for about 56,000 members in over 550 towns. At present ECS is represented in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland.
  • Mobility CarSharing Switzerland – Offering a fleet of cars available nationwide for customers to use as needed.

For more comprehensive information about car clubs in the UK, visit Carplus.

'Ride-Shares' in Europe and the UK

  • Liftshare – Aims to make sharing cars a viable transport alternative in the UK. Also offers maps, public transport info, and traffic news.
  • National Car Share – Again links member drivers and passengers. They also offer an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) car sharing information line.
  • MyLifts – A new online car sharing application that allows you to search for sharers using maps and personal profiling.