Transportation is one area where the human carbon footprint is very large, however it can be cut back significantly if we make a few changes to our lifestyles. In particular, reducing the number of cars on the roads can have a beneficial impact for the environment and the world in general.
Carsharing is a term that has been around for a few years, and refers to a billion dollar industry that reduces vehicle impact. If you have never used a carshare option though, you might be wondering exactly what it is, how it can be of benefit, and how it works. Read on for the lowdown.
What is Carsharing, and Why Should You Use It?
Carsharing is a car rental system that, unlike traditional hire programs, suits people who only need to use a vehicle for a short period of time, like an hour or two. Carsharing is easier on the wallet than owning a car because it means you only pay for specific usage of a vehicle, according to the length of time you have it and/or how far you travel. Unlike with ownership, you don’t have to pay a large amount upfront to buy a car, or spend money on maintaining, repairing, or parking it over the years.
People who typically use a carsharing system want access to a vehicle at any time of the day or night, as opposed to only being able to pick up a rental during business hours; and prefer a car that is located close to their home, office, hotel, or the like.
When you participate in a carsharing program you can find out about vehicles which are parked on your block or just down the road, and don’t have to worry about heading to an airport or a far-away inner-city location to get access to your ride.
There are numerous benefits to be had from choosing carsharing. As mentioned above, you can save money if you rarely use a vehicle or if you travel a lot and need to make use of wheels while away. You can also enjoy having the chance to test drive many different makes and models of cars, rather than being tied down to just one.
When it comes to the environment, carsharing also packs a very positive punch. For starters, when many different people can utilize the one vehicle, this means that fewer cars need to be manufactured, so less resources are used. In addition, fewer cars are on the road emitting pollution (air and noise) and using up limited gas.
When more people carshare this also reduces the need for so much parking infrastructure and road expansion, and allows more space and resources to be used on the creation of urban green spaces. Furthermore, people who don’t own a car are more likely to walk or cycle to go to places nearby, which is healthier for them and the environment.
The Process Behind Carsharing
The first step involved in carsharing is to choose which company’s services you would like to use. Be aware that, depending on your location, your choices may be limited to one or two operators. If you have a few to choose from, conduct some research to find out what kind of fees are involved (most have membership costs on top of the actual car-hire fees) and how close a suitable car is to you.
It is important to carefully read over the terms and conditions of a carsharing agreement. While they do vary a bit from firm to firm, typically they require you to be 21 years or age or older, and have a valid driver’s license with a clear record.
You will find that most carsharing providers ask you to fill out an online registration form and then select a plan. These plans will usually be based on the amount of hours per month that you want to have access to a vehicle, and/or how many miles you need to drive. Gas costs and insurance are generally included in the plan you select, although you may be required to top up the gas using a supplied fuel card if the level falls below a certain point.
Once you’re signed up, you can use the company’s website or app to look at a map of your local area to see where available cars are parked. Alternatively, sometimes carsharing businesses will simply tell you where the closest car is. After you have made your choice, you can reserve the car for your preferred time via a smartphone, on your computer, or, occasionally, over the phone.
When you get to the car, you will likely be able to use your membership card with its electronic chip to unlock the doors, or you may need to access a specific app on your phone. You will receive instructions on where to find the key hidden within the car too, if you don’t have to pick up the keys from the car owner, a lockbox, or some other spot. In most cases, cars need to be returned to the same parking spaces where they were picked up from.
Types of Services Available at This Stage
Once you conduct some research you will find that there are various different services available across the United States and elsewhere these days. While you will find a number of specific carsharing ventures which service the consumer market, including industry stalwart Zipcar (which was one of the first players in the field), there are also now numerous car brands getting in on the action. For example, luxury vehicle manufacturer BMW has branched into providing carsharing services.
On top of these options, you will also notice that many individuals are now sharing out their car to strangers as a way of making some money and paying for some of their annual vehicle expenses. This is mostly due to the introduction of specific apps and other platforms which introduce parties to each other and handle most of the administration, payment and marketing sides of the transactions.
Furthermore, after seeing the consumer demand for this type of automotive service, lots of businesses are also starting to join the market. There are organizations which now run carsharing fleet-management programs, plus tourism operators who are providing car services for people just needing a car for their vacation period, and even universities are establishing carsharing programs for students to use during their time at college.
Tips for Choosing a Service
To find the best carsharing service and plan for your needs, it is important to be very clear about exactly how and when you will need to use a vehicle. You not only need to think about how far you will be willing to walk to get to the car you use, but also how many miles you will likely need to drive in a vehicle every month, and if you need to source a one-way service that doesn’t require you to bring the car back to the pick-up point.
If you think you will need some flexibility in the plan you choose, make sure you look for a service that provides this. For example, you might want to be able to utilize (that is, test out!) many different types of cars during a month, from compact vehicles to luxury ones or even off-roaders; or you might want to be able to use a car for short distances some days and for longer trips on others.
It is also a good idea, when you’re new to the whole carsharing model, to look for a service that only charges you on a month-to-month basis, with no cancellation fee. This way, if you don’t find that the program or fees suit you as you’d like, you will only be out of pocket for the initial month’s charges.