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Car sharing sits squarely in the eco-friendly mid-ground between owning a vehicle and being carless, offering members the convenience of driving a car when they need it without the expense of buying, insuring, fueling, and taking care of it. In the process, car sharers drive a lot less (50 percent less according to a Swiss study) than if they owned a car, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fuel use, and traffic congestion as well.[1]

How to car share

Although programs differ slightly in their set-up and in the options they offer, the concept is simple.

  1. You pay some combination of a membership or application fee to join.
  2. Reserve a car when you need to pick up a relative at the airport, buy groceries, visit an out-of-town friend, or other reasons.
  3. You either rent by the hour or by the day and then return the car to the pick-up spot or to another specified location.

Car sharing is ideal for:

  • People who use public transit to get around most of the time but could occasionally benefit from the convenience of a car.
  • One-car households who sometimes need a second car.
  • College students who need a car once in a while.

There are some significant financial benefits for car shareres. First, you don't pay for gas, maintenance, or insurance (car sharing is shown to be cost effective over owning a car for those who drive 6,000 miles or less per year[2]). Though rates vary, it's almost always cheaper than traditional car rentals because you can rent for just the amount of time you need the car. And, car share cars usually have reserved parking spots; eliminating a major hassle city drivers face.

Keep in mind, though, that location matters. That's because car sharing is mainly found in cities, although station cars, a type of car sharing where cars are rented at transit stations, may exist in suburban areas. You'll also find car shares on college campuses, a few programs cater to those in housing developments or apartment complexes, and some businesses offer car sharing for their employees.

Find it! Car share programs

The cars used in these programs will more likely be gas sippers than gas guzzlers, though some programs also rent trucks appropriate for furniture hauling and other big loads. About half of the 450 cars in the PhillyCarShare program are hybrid cars. To find car shares in the US and abroad go to CarSharing.net or World CarShare Consortium's inventory of car share operations.

Joining a car sharing program helps you go green because...

  • Fewer cars on the road means less traffic congestion and fewer global-warming-causing tailpipe emissions.
  • It reduces the use of petroleum-based fossil fuels.
  • It may trim demand for new cars whose production requires a great amount of raw materials and energy and contributes to air pollution. Seven billion pounds of non-recyclable scrap and waste are generated annually by car manufacturing.[3]

The innovative idea of car sharing originated in the mid-1980s in Lucerne, Switzerland, and has caught on in other European cities with more than 150,000 participants.[4] Car sharing migrated to the US in 1999 and at the start of 2007 more than 134,000 people were sharing some 3,600 vehicles in 18 car sharing programs.[5]

The up-front environmental benefit is fewer cars on the roads with eight to 15 members using a vehicle. But it turns out that effect is amplified as car sharers drive 40 to 60 percent less than if they owned a car. And in a study of the San Francisco City CarShare program, two-thirds said that they had avoided buying another car by belonging to the car share.[6]

Members also take public transit, bike, and walk more than they did before they joined. Austin CarShare members bumped up their public transit usage by 25 percent. Their program also accounted for 12 fewer cars on the road, 4,000 gallons of gas saved each year, 21,000 fewer pounds of CO2 produced and $6,500 more cash in the average member's pocket than if they had owned a car.[7] If 10,000 people joined car shares instead of buying cars, the amount of non-recyclable materials that would not be generated would equal the weight of 37,580 highway patrolmen.[3]

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