Wednesday, May 27, 2009

La Vie Without a Car

When I sold my car in early February 2009, I had every intention of quickly buying a replacement. I would move to Paris for a semester, return to DC, find a job, and buy a new, used car. Everything happened just as planned except for the part about buying a vehicle. Seven months after moving back to the nation's capital, I'm still sans voiture. When I tell people I don't have a car they inevitably all ask the same question: "How do you make Target runs?!" I'll admit, not being able to head out to everyone's favorite one-stop household goods shop and return with bags upon bags of dishwasher detergent and dryer sheets was something I worried about as well. Enter, Zipcar.

Zipcar is a car-sharing program that operates in a number of cities across the U.S. and Canada. The company places vehicles of all kinds (mini coopers, pickup trucks, hybrids) in designated parking spots around residential neighborhoods that are available for you to "rent" on an hourly or daily basis. You sign up on their website, enter the time and day you want a car, search within your area, and voilà! They give you a list of the cars that are available and their going rates. Once you've reserved your car, you simply walk up to it at the designated time, open it with your micro-chipped card, turn the key that's attached to the vehicle's interior and away you go. Gas and insurance are included in the very reasonable price. It's Vélib for cars! In fact, there has been talk of instituting a car-sharing program in Paris similar to its successful bike-sharing intiative, but it looks as though that project might have hit a snag.

Zipcar's motto is "Wheels when you want them," and I couldn't have said it better myself. This program has allowed me to free myself from the responsibility and hassle of owning two tons of metal (paying for maintenance, expensive monthly insurance, always filling up the gas tank, parking, expensive breakdowns, sitting in traffic), without having to give up the convenience of using a car on the rare occasions when I need one. I've never been happier or felt healthier since I started living in the U.S. like I did in Europe: only commuting by public transportation, carrying my groceries home, and running my errands on foot. Not to mention the warm, fuzzy feeling I get when I think of how I'm helping the environment. And the next time I move overseas, I won't even have to worry about selling the car.

6 comments:

Lilliy said...

That is great! You will never see that here in Jeddah KSA, its the opposite of environment friendly. I travel to the US a lot. Usually I get great deals on car rental but mostly I always try to use public buses, metro, beats looking for parking. But that depends on where you go to right? this program it isn't available every where?
By the way the way you love Paris is the same feeling I have about Turkey right now. I used to be in love with New York, but somehow Istanbul charmed me.

Tanya said...

Hi Lilliy,
You're right, the program isn't available everywhere, but it is available in a lot of major U.S. and Canadian cities. DC, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Vancouver, Toronto etc.

It really is a fantastic program, and a lot of people don't even know it exists!

Anonymous said...

Amen to la vie sans voiture! I look forward to moving to Boston so that I can get rid of mine! It's great to have alternative transportation options. Did you happen to read this? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/12/science/earth/12suburb.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=german%20town%20without%20cars&st=cse. Thanks for the post, Tanya! - Katrina

Tanya said...

Thanks for sharing that article, Katrina! Loved it. I can definitely relate to the woman who said she feels less tense without her car.

Zhu said...

That is a really cool way to deal with the "need" to have a car in North American cities, but yet minimum responsibilities.

Just curious: do you gave good transportation, or do you live in the city center?

As much as I hate cars (and I do!), I couldn't live without one for both of us. We only live a 10 min. drive on the freeway from the city center, but by bus (which I do a lot) it's 45 min...

Tanya said...

@Zhu, Yes, I do have good public transportation. I live just outside of DC proper in Arlington, Virginia and I'm only a 7 minute walk to a DC metro line, 5 minute walk to multiple buses, and Arlington County is known in the region for its excellent transportation services. All of this makes not having a car of my own possible. If I still lived in Minneapolis I would definitely own a car! So I totally understand when people can't do without their wheels. I've been there. Just glad to no longer be there.