March 3, 2007

It is now March and I can drive my car again.

Back in December I decided to take the City of Seattle's One Less Car Challenge. In exchange for $100 worth of Flexcar credit, I agreed to stop driving my car entirely and to instead rely on Flexcar, ride-sharing, car services and mass transit for all my trips. Those two months are over and I'm considering moving up to "Level 2," selling my car and using alternative means of transit all the time.

With the plan I have, Flexcar charges between $6.50 and $9.25 an hour for most cars and SUVs up to a maximum of about $70 in any 24-hour period. My plan has a minimum charge of $75 a month; committing to a higher minimum reduces the rates by a few more percentage points. In my first three months on Flexcar, I used 20.5 hours in December (mostly around Christmas), 17 hours in January, and 13.5 hours in February. My break-even point, where Flexcar expenses would match my projected car expenses, is about 32 hours a month. This leaves plenty of room for longer trips in the summer when I might actually want to go on the road for a day trip.

Flexcar can make things more convenient in that I don't have to worry about maintenance, parking, or repairs. All that is built into the hourly rate, which also covers gasoline, insurance, and roadside assistance. On the flip side, with Flexcar I am never guaranteed a car at any given time, nor can I expect that the car will be in the same shape as I last left it in. The per-hour rate also puts an unusual burden on trips, particularly short trips. If a book is $5 cheaper at Fred Meyer in Ballard than it is on-line, it's not worth it to pay $9.25 for a car to drive myself up there. For long-term parking obligations like driving to the airport, I have to take mass transit or a car service.

The point of car-sharing is to keep fewer cars on the road, and with my light driving habits I think I can make it work. There's still the more philosophical question: is it a good long-term idea to go car-less?