By Micheline Maynard
Back in 2009, just before General Motors filed for bankruptcy, I wrote a story for The New York Times called, “Industry Fears Americans May Quit New Car Habit.”
This was a very real concern for the Obama administration, which was in the midst of investing $82 billion in reviving two car companies and restructuring other parts of the auto industry.
The story included an interview with Scott Griffith, the CEO of a fledgling company called Zipcar, which rented cars to customers by the hour. In 2008, Zipcar had signed up 200,000 members. In 2009, the company was aiming for 300,000.
Flash forward to 2013. Zipcar was sold this spring to the Avis Budget Group for $500 million. Zipcar now has 810,000 members. And the opportunities for expanding its network seem boundless.
But Zipcar is far from the only car sharing company out there. As you can see from our car resources page, there are all manner of places, both for-profit and non-profit, allowing people to use a car for short periods of time.On a cost level, the appeal is understandable. According to Zipcar, the average city dweller saves more than $500 per month simply by exchanging car ownership for hourly rentals. The savings come in parking, gas, maintenance and insurance.
Convenience is another factor. With hourly rentals popping up in many places, customers who had to wait in line at Hertz, Avis and Budget on the weekend can simply walk up to their car, get in and drive away.
There’s a third factor that might seem counter intuitive to car lovers: freedom. Once, an automobile represented the ultimate in mobility. An owner could travel anywhere they liked, at any time they liked. But to those who use car sharing services, the real freedom lies in not being encumbered by the responsibilities of car ownership.
They can get a car, for as long as they need it, presuming there’s a car waiting for them at the location they want to use. When they’re done, they’re done. No garaging it, no searching for a spot, no worrying about new scratches.
Car sharing users have rethought how they get around. Are you among them? What are the pros and cons of car sharing?
Next: An Old Idea Returns
Read the other stories in our 10 Big Transportation Ideas series here.