Owning a car is expensive – about $9,000 a year in gas, insurance, depreciation and maintenance, according to the latest numbers from the auto club AAA. It has environmental costs, too, in air and water pollution, and emissions that contribute to climate change.
But are those the reasons people are using car-sharing services?
With all the different car-sharing services now available in the Portland area, I wanted to find out what draws people to car-sharing and what they do and don’t like about it.
About a dozen people shared their thoughts with OPB’s Public Insight Network, offering social, environmental, logistical, and financial reasons why they are sharing cars.
Many of them are using multiple car-sharing services. Some are sharing the cars they own through Getaround and RelayRides. Some have one car and use car-sharing instead of buying a second car. Others don’t have their own cars and are using Car2Go and Zipcar when they need wheels. Here are the pros and cons they’ve found:
Pro: The Promise Of Fewer Cars, Especially Big Ones
Jesse Engum of Portland shares his car through Getaround and RelayRides because “cars are expensive, abundant and sit idle most hours.” He sees potential for car-sharing to reduce the need for people to own large vehicles that can do everything they need a car to do.
“That could lead to more compact and fuel-efficient cars, and less utility vehicle ownership,” he said. “Why buy a 4X4 to make six trips to the mountain every winter when you can rent one?”
Engum has made a little less than $1,000 in two years of renting out his car.
“It doesn’t pay for the car,” he said. “But really, my motivation is just to support this type of movement.”
Con: Fear Of Liability
Engum said his one concern about peer-to-peer car sharing stems from a story he read in the New York Times about the possibility of insurance costs – in the case of a fatal accident, for example – exceeding the value provided by the car-sharing service.
The Oregon Legislature passed a law in 2011 that opened the door for people to rent out their cars without jeopardizing their own car insurance, but there are questions of liability it didn’t answer.
Engum said so far he hasn’t had any negative experiences with the insurance aspect of renting out his car, but he sees the fears about safety, asset depreciation and liability as a downside to car-sharing.
Pro: Supplementing An Electric Car Lifestyle
Lee Colleton of Seattle owns an electric car and a VW Jetta that runs on biodiesel.
“Nearly all of my driving is done in the electric, and the diesel is reserved for long distance trips,” Colleton said. “Because it would otherwise sit idle, I rent out my Jetta via RelayRides.”
For electric-car owners without a second car, car-sharing could also provide the wheels to go on longer drives without having to recharge mid-trip.
Con: Too Many Different Sharing Options
Colleton also uses ZipCar, Car2Go and WeCar depending on his car-sharing needs, and he said it’s a lot to juggle. Car2Go offers access to cars parked all over the city, but there isn’t always one nearby. ZipCar and WeCar allow you to reserve a car ahead of time, so you’re guaranteed a ride but they’re only available at certain locations.
“Managing the various siloed systems can be a challenge,” Colleton said. “It would be nice if they were all open and integrated so I could just touch a point on the map and I’d see the various options for reaching that point via public transit & car-sharing – regardless of carrier or vendor.”
Pro: Avoid Buying A Second Car
Chris Ortolano of Milwaukie said car-sharing through Car2Go gives his family more flexibility without having to buy a second car.
“We also use bus, bike, and MAX, so we employ a suite of transportation options,” he said. “Car2go is very affordable for the value we receive, and we love not having two car payments which allows us to invest in our home, retirement, and health care.”
Con: It’s Hard To Find A Car During Rush Hour
“It can be hard to locate a Car2go quickly during rush hour, and you must budget time to find a car in your area,” said Ortolano. “Sometimes you have to walk farther than you planned, which is inconvenient, especially when it is cold and rainy.”
But, he said, “he additional savings from not owning and maintaining a second car payment more than offsets the occasional inconvenience of having to hunt for a Car2Go.”
Pro: A Car For Big Hauls Only
Christen McCurdy of Portland doesn’t have a car, and doesn’t use one often either. But car-sharing offers the option of using one on bigger hauls.
“I generally walk or take transit to go to meetings for work, for small grocery trips or quick errands,” McCurdy said. “Once or twice a month I’ll pull a Zipcar for a big grocery trip or to travel to a work event that’s not easy to get to on transit. I’ve also used Zipcar trucks to haul larger things – for instance, to buy used furniture.”
Con: It Takes More Planning
Planning ahead for a car trip with ZipCar can be a challenge, said McCurdy.
“While it’s usually easy to extend a reservation by half an hour if nobody’s waiting, I’m sometimes terrible at estimating in advance how many hours I’ll be out and about in a car,” McCurdy said.
Erin Kelly of Portland uses both ZipCar and Car2Go, and she also finds trip-planning to be a challenge.
“From time to time I cannot find a car nearby or the kind of vehicle I want,” she said. “Beyond that? Adhering to a schedule or having to plan ahead to ensure access to a vehicle.”
Pro: More Savings, Fewer Worries
Steve Leathers of Portland doesn’t have a car, and he uses ZipCar and Car2Go instead. He says he worries less about car thieves and parking and saves money, too.
“I like not having to worry about my car being stolen or broken into,” he said. “I like not have to pay for car insurance and gasoline. I like biking and walking more than driving, but sometimes it rains and biking is pretty awful then. I like not having to park downtown. … I could probably afford owning a car. But then I realize that I’ll probably drive way more and be less healthy.”
Kelly, who hasn’t owned a car since 2000, said she also has fewer worries and only pays for the driving she needs.
“I love not having to worry about car maintenance, insurance premiums, parking, and vandalism,” she said. “I like that I can use just about any kind of vehicle I want just about whenever I want. I only pay for what I use, so it feels very efficient.”
Con: Location, Location, Location…And Competition
“The biggest challenge to car sharing is access,” said Leathers. “There are times when I would LOVE to use Car2Go, but there simply aren’t any vehicles within an hour of where I am.”
Sometimes the reason there aren’t any shared cars around, Leathers said, is because other people have taken them.
“There are a lot of people in my neighborhood who don’t have cars,” he said. “So there is competition from people who would be using them. Sometime it’s way better to reserve ahead of time.”