Car sharing one way to beat pumps

| Business, Environment |

Christine Lovelace thinks the hassles of owning a car just aren’t worth it.

Not when she can get one now and then from a car-sharing co-op.

Lovelace sold her 1994 Toyota Tercel in 2005 after she moved from Nova Scotia to Washington, D. C., for work.

While in the American capital, Lovelace relied on so-called car-share co-operatives to run errands and take weekend trips.

Now back in Halifax, Lovelace, 41, says she is pleased to see car-share coops popping up across Canada.

"With the price of gas the way it is, it’s a perfect opportunity now for this kind of thing."

The members of car-sharing co-operatives sign out cars online
and pick them up from parking spots scattered around their community,
using a personal swipe-key to unlock the door and drive off.

Members pay a one-time fee to use the vehicles, then an hourly
fee — between $5 and $9 per hour — each time they use a car.
Insurance, repairs and car payments are already covered.

The base day rate at Toronto-based AutoShare is $67, but certain plans cost as little as $45.

Each co-op charges various fees and offers differing levels of
service. Generally, the cheaper plans restrict the distance you can
drive before a per-kilometre charge kicks in.

Lovelace, who now works at the provincial archives in Halifax,
says she used the Washington car-share co-op about two or three times a
month, and usually spent about $25 each time.

"I never had any problems," Lovelace says. "But
sometimes people would get there and the car wasn’t there, or it wasn’t
returned on time."

Still, with fuel prices soaring, a major plus to car-sharing
networks is that the cost of gas is built into the hourly price of the
car.

"Users may have to put gas into the car, but they won’t have to
pay for it," says Kevin McLaughlin, founder of AutoShare. "You get
reimbursed. Cars might have a company credit card, or users might
submit receipts to the car-share."

Most car-share networks have had to re-adjust their rates as
gas prices have rise, says McLaughlin, 40. "But for a typical trip in
Toronto … the increase in gas has only added about a dollar."

McLaughlin and his wife have a three-year-old son and use
AutoShare twice a week to run errands, avoiding the stress of
subjecting the tot to a busy public transit system.

For McLaughlin, who used to work with an environmental group in Vancouver, car-sharing helps the environment.

McLaughlin helped establish Vancouver’s Co-operative Auto
Network in 1997, before moving back to his hometown Toronto, where he
started AutoShare.

It now has a fleet of about 200 cars and more than 7,000 drivers.

Other car-share organizations, like Montreal’s Communauto and Zipcar in Toronto and Vancouver, have sprouted up all over Canada.

Ottawa is home to about 50 cars, and Montreal has a network of
about 600. Calgary has about six cars, and Halifax is close to
launching a network of its own.

McLaughlin says car-share organizations often have a hard time setting up shop in smaller communities

"In a dense city like Toronto it’s easier to find a market for a
new idea," says McLaughlin. "People are going to have to be more
creative to make it work in smaller communities."