Posted: Jan 22, 2007, 8:38 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: San Francisco & Tucson
Car sharing--Have you tried it?
Car sharing. Anybody else participate? Me, I'm with ZipCar. They've got a nice Honda Element a half block from my condo in SF.
Car-sharing catching on with Bay Area drivers
Firms provide autos for those who don't want hassle of ownership
- Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007
For economic and environmental reasons, Tara Hunt wants to avoid buying a car, but sometimes she needs to drive from San Francisco across the Bay Bridge to Ikea or Home Depot. Keith Kamisugi finds it a hassle to own a car in San Francisco -- especially trying to find a parking place near his home -- but he has to drive to business meetings and on occasional errands.
For Hunt and Kamisugi -- and thousands of other Bay Area residents -- car-sharing is the answer to that dilemma.
"Not owning a car in San Francisco is a big benefit to me,'' said Kamisugi, 36, who lives in the parking-deprived Inner Richmond District. Car-sharing "fills the gap between my use of public transportation and the times when I need a car.''
So many people in the Bay Area are interested in car-sharing that two for-profit companies have joined nonprofit pioneer City CarShare in the market -- and all three are surviving and growing.
"This is the only city in the country -- possibly in the world -- that has three car-share companies operating at the same time,'' said Dan Shifrin, regional vice president for Zipcar. "It speaks volumes about San Francisco.''
Rick Hutchinson, chief executive officer for City CarShare, estimates that about 13,000 people actively participate in Bay Area car-sharing operations. About 4,000 joined in the past year.
"It's been a great year for car-sharing,'' he said.
And all three operations expect their memberships to grow substantially in the coming year as they collectively put hundreds more cars into service.
Car-sharing services offer their members an organized and high-tech system for using cars for short-term trips, charging hourly or daily rates and sometimes a per-mile fee. Gasoline, insurance and maintenance are included. Members book the cars online or over the phone, pick them up at locations scattered across their cities, and return them when they're done.
Made popular in German and Swiss cities in the mid-1980s, car-sharing now exists in 600 cities on four continents with about 350,000 people using 11,000 vehicles. In the United States, where car-sharing was introduced in the late 1990s, about 102,000 people shared 2,558 cars as of July, said Susan Shaheen, a UC Berkeley research scientist who tracks car-sharing. Initial estimates for December show those numbers rising.
City CarShare opened the first car-sharing service in the Bay Area in 2001 with a fleet of eye-catching green Volkswagen Beetles that have since been retired. In 2005, the two national, for-profit firms -- Zipcar and Flexcar -- moved into the market.
Representatives of the three firms say that they're doing well and that there's plenty of room in the San Francisco market for all of the companies.
"I don't really feel like we're competing. We're helping each other out,'' Shifrin said. "We all have the same product: cars; we all charge hourly; and we all want to remove cars from the streets and support public transportation. We have more in common than we have differences.''
Officials at the other car-sharing operations agree. City CarShare's mission, Hutchinson said, is not to make money but to reduce car ownership, and pollution, congestion and oil dependence. City CarShare laid the groundwork and established the market that attracted the two for-profits, he said.
"When the other companies came to town, we were pleased that they were legitimizing the mission,'' he said. "And the fact that they have brought additional resources has benefited car-sharing.''
Flexcar spokesman John Williams said the companies have their differences -- mainly rate structures and car-sharing locations -- but have worked with each other to build interest in sharing cars instead of owning them.
"We all share a healthy sense of competition,'' he said, "but I think there are enough people out there who don't even know about car-sharing to support all three.''
San Francisco's dense population, dearth of parking, high gasoline prices, public transit systems and environmental activism make it a strong market for car-sharing. With Berkeley and Oakland sharing some of those characteristics, all three companies have cars and members in those cities as well.
For members, convenience is key. Hunt, 33, who owns an Internet marketing consulting business, lives and works South of Market. The Toronto native is used to living without a car but found that San Francisco's transit and taxi services often made that difficult. So she and her boyfriend decided to try car-sharing, and picked Zipcar because she saw a lot of its cars in her neighborhood.
"I saw that Zipcars were everywhere,'' she said. "And they had the coolest cars. ... It's one of the best things we've done.''
Hunt pays $250 a month on a prepaid plan that gives her discounted rates of $7 an hour or $55 a day for most cars. Zipcar charges higher rates for cars like the BMW 325i or the Mini Cooper convertible. It's enough to fit in not only the trips to the East Bay for furniture and home-improvement shopping but also grocery shopping, visits to clients on the Peninsula and even an occasional out-of-town weekend trip.
Several Zipcar sites are within easy walking distance of her home and work, Hunt said, and getting a car hasn't been a problem.
"I can't always get exactly the car I want -- I like Priuses, and they're popular,'' she said. "But I can always get a car when I want.''
Linda Johnson, 40, director of a nonprofit arts organization, is equally satisfied with City CarShare, which has a different rate structure, charging $10 monthly dues, $4 an hour and 44 cents a mile. The per-mile charge, Hutchinson said, is designed to encourage shorter trips so more members can use the cars.
Johnson and her husband, who live in a small Mission District apartment, drive to the grocery store, to pick up friends at the airport and to go hiking. They spend between $30 and $75 a month -- less than insurance used to cost when she owned a car.
"The prices are very low,'' she said. "When I tell people how little we spend, their jaws drop.''
Shaheen believes car-sharing has a big future, not only in the Bay Area but also across the country as the concept spreads and companies reach out to suburbia, lower-income communities and other specialized markets. She's projected that as many as 2 million people nationwide could eventually become car-sharing customers.
Officials with car-sharing companies are equally optimistic, though they know it goes against the national culture and tradition.
"We're battling against the American dream,'' said Williams. "But we've found tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people who would rather not own a car.''
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