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Transcript

A Shift to Hourly Rentals

Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; 2:00 PM

Many people in the Washington region -- with its crowded neighborhoods, limited parking and nightmarish traffic -- have come to the conclusion that owning a car is more of a hassle than anything else, turning it into a proving ground of whether Americans are amenable to the culture of car sharing, Washington Post staff writer Steven Ginsberg reports in Tuesday's article, "More Area Car Owners Shift to Hourly Rentals" (Post, March 29).

Steven Ginsberg was online Tuesday, March 29, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss how more D.C.-area car owners are making this change.


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More From The Post
Car Sharing in the D.C. Area

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Lakewood, Colo.: Mr. Ginsberg,

Thanks for taking my question.

In trying to determine whether renting vehicle by the hour is cost efficient, I have a few questions regarding costs? What is the average hourly rate for renting these vehicles (i.e. for a subcompact vehicle)? I estimate that I spend a rock bottom rate of around $1200 a year driving my vehicle (including gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance, but not including vehicle depreciation). How many hours of driving does the average person need to limit themselves to before renting hourly becomes cost effective?

Steven Ginsberg: Hello everyone. Thanks for checking in to our car sharing chat.

Zipcar charges $8.50 an hour and Flexcar $9 for their cheapest cars. Higher end and specialty models cost more. They also offer all sorts of plans that can make it cheaper. I'm pretty impressed that your costs are as low as $1,200. You must not drive a lot, which car sharing aficionados would say means you should ditch your car and pay by use.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems like this article should have discussed taxis as a third alternative. If I take a shared car to a movie, not only do I have to find parking for the car while I'm at the movie, but I also have to pay for the car while it's just sitting on the street. Taxis provide a much more efficient form of car-sharing, since each person only holds the car for a short time.

Steven Ginsberg: Car sharing is one of a handful of alternative options available for people. Sometimes Metro suits their needs, sometimes a taxi and sometimes a car by the hour. I agree with you that it doesn't make much sense for a movie. But it does also depend on how many people there are. Taxis charge more per person, while car sharing doesn't. So depending on where and when the movie is, four people could save money by car sharing.

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Arlington, Va.: Sure if someone ditches their car they will save thousands of dollars a year....but these hourly rentals are administratively cumbersome and expensive!

At the rates they are charging per hour you could easily cover the cost of a traditional rental car in just 3-4 hours. That is a forty dollar trip to Target! How could you not discuss the cost benefit analysis? Your article completely leaves out the expense compared to realistic alternatives (taxi, metrobus, metro rail, borrowing a friends car etc) vs simply going to your local CVS, online ordering, or paying for delivery.

I also fail to understand the basis for your assertion that "more" people are using these rentals and thus the impression that they are becoming popular. With registered users numbering under 3,000 that is probably hardly enough to keep these companies in business!

Steven Ginsberg: First, you quote some wrong numbers. There are nearly 14,000 car sharers between the two companies and nearly half of those have joined in the past year. That supports the notion that more people are doing it.

As far as costs go, you may or may not be able to save money with a traditional rental. My analysis found is what mostly the best option for a day-long rental or more. Keep in mind that you have to pay for gas and insurance with a rental. If you don't own a car and already have insurance, that can get pretty costly. Also, car rental companies tend to be somewhat difficult to get to, which adds a little more cost and hassle.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for your article this morning ... as an urban dweller who is the prime target for the services of zipcar and flexcar, I still just haven't been sold on the concept. If I want to make a big grocery run, it's easier to walk or Metro to a grocery store and then spend $8-10 for a cab home. Then I don't have to rush myself in the store and spend $20 for two exact hours. And on the weekends a quick Metro ride to the airport can you a car for not much more than $20 for an entire day -- even with all the taxes and such. The companies just haven't convinced me.

Steven Ginsberg: To me, that concern about finishing at a set time would be a major deterrent. I have bad visions of standing in a supermarket line and going insane because the person in front of me needs a price check and that's going to cost me money. The people I talked to tended to use the services for bigger shopping trips, like a run to Costco for a month's worth of supplies.

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Vienna, Va.: How do the people in the article get TO the zipcar location? How do you get home once you've returned the car? This all seems so great unless you live somewhere that actually requires a car to get to your Zipcar.

Steven Ginsberg: Car sharing really only works in dense urban areas. In places like Washington and Arlington there are cars spread across the city, in little bunches of twos and threes. I live in Adams Morgan and their are probably a dozen or so cars between the two firms within walking distance of me. In my neighborhood, that's about as close as most people can park anyway.

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Washington, D.C.: In response to the rental car philosophies, let me chime in since I use both. I would love to use a flexcar down the street from me for an overnight trip to Baltimore for instance, but the limitations of it are that it has to be on the same calendar day to count as one day. I get a rental for $16 a day, far outweighing the cost, and although it's a 30 minute metro ride to get to it, it beats the extra cost and it can be truly flexible from say 6 pm one day to 6 pm the next.

Steven Ginsberg: It all depends on your particular situation. No one is suggesting that car sharing works for every trip you're going to take. All they're saying is that it can work for some, or most, or, at least, a whole lot more than you might think.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Steve,
Thanks for your great article. I was a car owner guilty of leaving my car sitting in the street for days -- sometimes weeks -- on end while I rode my bicycle to work. It cost me $1000/yr just to insure it! I sold my car, freed up that parking space in the neighborhood and signed up for flexcar. I -love- it, especially that everything is paid for and taken care of. Now I just use it for that rare Ikea trip and save lots of money.

Steven Ginsberg: Tell us a little more about what you use it for and how much money you feel like you're saving.

As an aside, one of the company people I talked to said that people should use the snow test, as in if you're car is still covered with snow a couple days after a storm, you should sell it and be a car sharer.

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Rosslyn, Va.: I really don't need a car fulltime so I'm thinking of selling my car, renting one out once a month for the weekend to run errands and, when needed, rely on zipcars/flexcars. However, the number of available cars mentioned in the article seemed pretty low considering how many people are registered and how many more will be after reading the article. I'd like to have feedback from users on availability of cars etc. Thanks so much!

Steven Ginsberg: What do you say users? Ever have trouble getting the car you need?

People I spoke to said that every now and again they won't be able to get a car they want, but that mostly they're able to reserve what they want when they want a day or two before they go somewhere. They said it takes a little more planning than if you drove your own car.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Steve,

Thanks for covering this. I use Flexcar and am a fan of the hourly rates, as well as taking advantage of the full day rates at times. I do think, however, that the prices need to drop a little, which will hopefully come with demand. Have you heard from either company that they plan on increasing their fleet of cars if possible? and then decreasing prices?

Steven Ginsberg: They're definitely planning to increase their fleet of cars. The D.C. area is huge for both companies and they want to expand. I didn't hear any talk of lowering prices.

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Cambridge, Mass.: Hello,
I'm a former Washingtonian now studying near Boston, where Zipcar started out. I have to say, Zipcar is absolutely invaluable to me -- owning my own car makes no practical or financial sense, and with a Zipcar 5 minutes away I never feel stranded. I spend less on Zipcar in a year than I would just for parking on campus! Many of the Boston-area universities actively support Zipcar by providing parking spaces near dorms and by subsidizing membership for students and staff - it's a great cooperation, and I hope similar partnerships are explored by DC-area schools.

Steven Ginsberg: The student population is a perfect example of who this can work for. A college like George Washington University may one day find that it's cheaper, better and more appealing visually to use Flexcar or Zipcar than to build parking garages.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I know that these companies have cars in the suburbs near Metro stations, but how do I get from my house to the metro station? Are there any plans to place cars in the suburbs other places, like major bus stops? I'm thinking of the intersection of Colesville Road and University in Maryland.

Steven Ginsberg: I think they'll put cars wherever there's demand (and parking spots.) So I'll put this out there in case they're listening.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm curious about which types of vehicles are in demand. In particular, I'd be curious to know whether Flexcar or Zipcar have explored trying to introduce Smart cars (which are very popular in Europe but have not yet been approved for US) into their lineup. It seems like a win-win situation to me -- the cars would attract lots of attention marketing-wise for Flex/Zipcar and for Smart's parent company, and customers would find them fun to drive. The only question is whether most customers want larger vehicles for their storage capacity. What are your thoughts on this?

Steven Ginsberg: My thoughts are that I love Smart cars. For those who don't know, they are tiny little cars (maybe a touch bigger than a golf cart) that are extremely popular in European cities and only recently making an appearance here. Neither company offers them, but they are on to that sort of idea.
Zipcar offers all sorts of fun cars, like VW Bugs, BMWs, convertibles, etc. Flexcar tends to be a bit more utilitarian, but also includes many hybrids. Both have pickups and larger SUVs.

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Arlington, Va.: There does seem to be some issue with the government reserving public space on the public street for a private entity. Do they pay for the space ? If there were more than 2 companies, the spaces would have to be auctioned or bid for - or do they do that now?

On the other hand, some public streets are reserved for parking-use only by those who live nearby. Do these users pay compensation for exclusive right to use a publicly owned and maintained space ?

I'm just trying to determine if there is some general principle at work or if these types of decisions regarding the use of public land are being made ad-hoc.

I guess it varies by jurisdiction ?

Steven Ginsberg: It varies by jurisdiction, as does opposition. Arlingtonians don't seem to have much problem giving up some spots, but when the District proposed the idea of using a few spots in tightly packed Adams Morgan, many residents revolted. There is a good bit of irony here, since car sharing could conceivably cut down on the number of cars on the roads, but many people are skeptical of those claims and say that these private firms shouldn't be allowed to use prime spots, whether they pay for them or not. Others say it's no different than letting restaurants take up space for valet parking, curb cuts, taxi stands, etc.

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Boston, Mass.: I use a variety of forms of transportation, but I LOVE having zipcar. I take public transit most of the time. The occasional cab from the grocery store or late at night. But ZipCar to take my cat to the vet or do a big shopping in the suburbs. I could rent a car for a day, but since I'd have to add extra insurance plus gas, it's not usually worth it. I like the convenience of having a car down the street, not having to plan more than a couple of hours in advance, and knowing it's there if I need a car in an emergency. I use it instead of a traditional rental car sometimes just because I want them to stay in business. Thanks for letting me put in my two cents!

Steven Ginsberg: Having it there in case of emergency is another perk over traditional rental car firms.

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RE: Rosslyn, VA: I've been a member for a couple of months now and I've almost never had a problem getting a car when I need it. I also hear than we're going to be getting a few more cars in Arlington.
As far as going over my time, I can call at any point and get additional time added to my reservation as long as nobody has the car reserved right after me. It seems that everyone leaves some buffer time.

Steven Ginsberg: One customer's experience...

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Smart cars: If Zipcar offered Smart cars, I'd rent it. Especially since it would probably be on the low-end of the price range. If I were just zipping around town, especially going into an area with tight parking? Definitely.

Steven Ginsberg: I agree with you. I'd like to drive a Smart car just for the experience and the unimaginable pleasure of being able to fit into those annoyingly large spaces people leave when they parallel park. Come on people! Bumper to bumper, that's what they're there for.

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Washington, D.C.: I donated my car to charity in Jan of 2004 and switched to Flexcar. As you mentioned it's perfect for people like my girlfriend and I who live in Kalorama and don't need to drive much. We probably have to use flexcar about 6 times a year mostly for long shopping runs to Target or Home Depot, but occassionally we use it to drive to someone's house for a party if they're not Metro accessible. For us it has been the perfect fit.

Which is why I don't understand folks like the person you quoted at the end of your article, who say car sharing services won't make a difference. I gave up my car, others will too. Will it suddenly free up the crowded streets of Adams Morgan? Of course not, but it is a small step in the right direction, I don't understand the hostility of the non-car sharing residents.

Steven Ginsberg: I think the hostility comes from years of fighting for parking spots. I sympathize with that concern, cause I've been doing it for about 10 years myself. It's also a new thing, so people are skeptical. If more people like you sign up and word gets around, attitudes may change.

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Alexandria, Va.: I recently moved to D.C. -- but still work in Va. -- Dupont area, so parking is a pain. I metro to work, but when I come in on the weekends (which happens frequently unfortunately), I like to drive. I also play softball in Va. and having the car is nice during softball season. Despite having a really good driving record, my insurance costs amount to $1200 a year. Of course my car is paid off so all I have is insurance and gas to deal with.

Sometimes it makes since for me to give up the car, but I'm not sure I can. I like the freedom it gives me and hate to have to ask people for rides to things like softball. Any suggestions on how to get over it? $1200 a year is a lot to spend on a car I rarely use. I failed the snow test twice this year.

Steven Ginsberg: I'm in a similar situation to you. I don't use my car for work, but drive to the suburbs probably twice a week to play basketball and visit family. Those trips last a couple hours, so it doesn't seem like car sharing works. But I've never done the math and that's what I would suggest for you. It will probably sting to spend $20 or $30 per trip, but at the end of the year you may spend a lot less than all your costs. You may pay less than just your insurance. One thing that car sharers note is that they tend to drive less if they have to pay money each time they get in the car.

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Washington, D.C.: In response to the query about availability. I am a member of Flexcar and I have never had a problem finding a car nearby that is available. Admittedly, I don't use it very often. I can go months without driving. And there was one time, when my first two choices weren't available and I had to go a couple of metro stops to get to an available car. But otherwise, they seem to be expanding their fleet nicely. Since that time that I didn't get the car at the location of my first choice, Flexcar has added two more cars in within walking distance of my apartment. I am sure the cars get used more on the weekend, so it would probably pay to reserve that time early if needed.

Steven Ginsberg: another experience...

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Washington, D.C.: Re: renting the car you want -- I'm a member of Flexcar and Zipcar (Zipcar being my backup service when Flexcar is totally booked), and I've only rarely had problems with getting the car I want. (I primarily rent in Dupont Circle, near my house, and Rosslyn, near my office.) Obviously, if you need the Dupont Circle car for eight hours on a Saturday, you're going to have to reserve far in advance. But generally, it's not a problem.

I do wish they had some more cars RIGHT near the Dupont Metro, though -- and some of the parking spaces are in such unsavory areas that I refuse to rent there (the flexcar at 15th and Church is a prime example -- scary after dark!). I'd be happy for the cars to be parked more on the street and less in alleyways, but I guess there's less risk that someone steals your flexcar space if the space is hidden away in an alley.

Steven Ginsberg: Wow, a double car sharer. You've hit on one of the reasons the companies say they need street spaces: so people feel safe when they use the services.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Similar programs are in the works in South Minneapolis, a densely populated area of mixed rental and owned homes and apartments. How many other cities have or are contemplating car share programs?

Steven Ginsberg: I came across different stats for how many cities had car sharing, but I'd say somewhere around a dozen have real options for car sharing.

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Washington, D.C.: As an under-25-year-old without a car, I really appreciate Flex/Zipcars for short trips, especially for "Target runs" and the like to the suburbs. Renting a car for the day is more expensive, since I have to pay the $25 underage fee and pay for car insurance and cab fares outside the District are a mystery to me. Once I turn 25, my feelings may change, but in the mean time, I love having the car-share option.

Steven Ginsberg: Another happy user..

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Washington, D.C.: Do the user numbers quoted by FlexCar and ZipCar include all active car sharing members? Or are people like myself, who in order to try it for a while, had to pay the annual fee for the year and after a few months realized that it wasn't an option?

The impending deadline put pressure on even the most carefully planned shopping trips, only heading out once a month added $40 to a single trip and by not living within walking distance from a car or Metro, there was also the time of quickly unloading all items, returning the car and then waiting for the bus/taking a taxi back. I'm sure it works for some people, but it's frustrating to be told by those users that it works for all urban situations. Unfortunately the Metro was not originally built for the average resident, but for government commuters coming into the city. The concept is great, however like everything else, what works for one person with a commute or car, doesn't always work for the next.

Steven Ginsberg: And here's someone it doesn't work for. And it sounds like you've got a little too much peer pressure in your life. It's okay that it doesn't work for you. It's okay. I promise.

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Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: I used to be a zipcar member (technically I still am as I never cancelled), but my partner and I bought a car in November and park it in our building's garage (we own the space). I was a huge fan of zipcar and still applaud the concept, but the problem I had was feeling like I had to rent a car for a full 24 hour period to feel like I was getting my money's worth. Whenever I visited friends/family outside of the city and not near public transportation, I always planned a full day's rental because it turned out being much cheaper by the hour and I would multi-task and plan to get more errands done while I had the car.

It actually turned out though to be cheaper to rent a car from the airport for the weekend for two days. Car rentals already included insurance and my partner as an extra driver plus the rental rate was discounted by my employer, IBM. The clincher though was twofold: last summer I started to feel trapped in the city on most weekends or dependent on others to pick me up for weekend trips and we really had to curtail spontaneity. Very often the nearest cars were not available unless you planned well in advance, and I didn't always know by Wednesday what I'd want to be doing over the weekend. I still think Zipcar is a great service, but I'm happy to be a car owner once again.

Steven Ginsberg: And someone else. These examples highlight what most say: the services work really well for some things and aren't so great for others. I would expect the companies to adjust to those needs as they grow and expand.

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Washington, D.C.: I will explain how Zipcar is far better than a traditional rental car.

1. They are in major neighborhoods. Rentals in D.C. are at Union Station or the airport.

2. You can rent a nice zipcar for 24 hours for about $65. This includes gas and insurance. For those of us who have given up our car, the insurance is significant. With a traditional rental I need to purchase the insurance option at $12 per day.

So a rental car at $20 per day, plus $12 for insurance, plus $20 for gas, that comes to $52. I am not going to quibble over the difference.

GO ZIPCAR!

Steven Ginsberg: The math does generally come out to be about the same, and car sharing often wins on convenience. But the one thing traditional car rentals offer that Zip and Flex don't is unlimited miles, so it depends how far you're going.

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Woodley, Washington, D.C.: My neighborhood has lots of Flexcars, but also the Enterprise local in the Marriott. You can get a nice car there for as little as 30-40 bucks per day. A few paces away are Flexcars and Zipcars for 10 per hour. I fail to see the value.

Steven Ginsberg: It's not really and either or. Sometimes a $10 an hour car may make more sense and sometimes a $40 rental for the day may work. Nobody will be upset if y'all use all forms of transportation.

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: I got rid of my car several years ago, and it was the best decision I've ever made. I was living in Adams Morgan at the time, and was one of those people who never used the car because I didn't want to lose the parking space. I did a calculation and realized that I could rent a car for a full weekend every month for the same amount of money I was spending on insurance, and that wasn't taking all the parking fines I was paying into account. As it turned out, I actually rent a car maybe one or two weekends a year, not a month, so I'm coming out well ahead. The cost and the time restrictions have kept me from using car sharing, but it does sound intriguing.

Steven Ginsberg: Almost to a person, people said they drove less than they thought they needed to when they got rid of a car. It does make you think if we need to take all those car rides we take.

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Arlington, Va.: With rental cars, don't forget the time spent signing contracts and inspections before and after the rental. Insurance and gas add on quite a lot. Taxes are also a significant portion of the bill. With Flexcar (probably Zipcar) too, you spend two minutes online or on the phone setting up a reservation and then you get the car and go. Return the car to its space, and then you are done. Much more efficient.

When talking cost analysis, be sure to include the cost of buying/leasing a car, parking, insurance, gas, and maintenance. $9/hour is a great deal -- plus the Flexcar offers great deals all the time. Taxis are more expensive (don't forget tip and all those crazy zones!) but may be better for one way trips.

Steven Ginsberg: Another fan...

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Arlington, Va.: Living in Arlington has allowed me to get by with very little need to drive, although I do own a car. However, after my two-year-old car failed inspection due to the brake disks being "too rusted" to adjust (caused, I was told, by "too little usage"), I think I may consider a car share.

Automobile storage takes up way too much space to be easily compatible with a compact, walkable environment such as what Arlington is becoming (they aren't completely there yet). I think programs such as that described in your article will help ease the transition.

Speaking of storage, why is it that for cars, the space for 1 car at a given location always costs the same (or is free) regardless of the size of the space? If you need to store a compact car it should cost less than a monster SUV. Every other type of storage, you pay by the square foot. Has this been implemented anywhere to your knowledge ?

Steven Ginsberg: That's an idea, charging for parking based on car size. I have not come across that anywhere.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you heard of any of the bike-sharing programs in Europe and elsewhere? Perhaps that could come next in D.C., which needs to get much more friendly to cycling as an alternative form of transportation.

Thanks.

Steven Ginsberg: I have heard of those and I'm a big fan. In some European cities you just grab a bike, go where you want and leave it at another spot. It sounds great to me. D.C. is trying to get more bike friendly, but it sure is taking them a long time.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks again for writing the article and bringing this to light.

I am a happy Flexcar customer, never had a problem getting a car, and have evenused the pickup truck which is nearby.

One thought for everyone is this: I was on a trip to Denver, and at one time Denver had Flexcar and I would have been able to use my membership there. So, for those without cars also travelling in major cities, if this gets big enough, its possible that you can land in Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc. and have ready access to a car you've already reserved or just call for. A Major plus

thanks again

Steven Ginsberg: That's something to consider as well, though it seems a couple years away from being really useful.

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Washington, D.C.: Truce! Zipcars work for some people, but not everyone. It depends where you live, and how much you use a car. For some people, it's just the back up they need to get rid of their car. For some people it gives them the flexibility that keeps them from buying a car. But it's not for everybody. One other perk: not shoveling the car out when it snows.

Steven Ginsberg: Oh my god, a voice of reason. Do not EVER come back to this chat again. Your kind is not welcome.

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London UK: I have lived in London for almost 7 years. We have 2 kids and no car, thanks to the convenient public transport here. We occasionally use a company called Streetcar, like those in DC, and love it! We are moving home to the Alexandria area this summer and I'm so thrilled that this type of company exists in the U.S. now. Perhaps we'll be able to get just one car for my husband's commute and I can use the local hourly rental company for anything I have to do beyond our local environs ... I am so delighted to hear these companies now exist because they are really wonderful and convenient to use over here!

Steven Ginsberg: Welcome (almost) back! I bet you'll be pleased to have car sharing available to you and absolutely shocked at how much worse traffic has gotten since you left.

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Lakewood, Colo.: An update to my previous question ...

My costs (/year) to drive a dirt cheap vehicle (1993 Tercel) in Colorado are $600 for gas (12,000 miles), $400 for insurance, and $200 for maintenance and repairs. Assuming my current fuel efficiency (40 mi/gallon) and an average speed of 30 mi/hr, I would need to limit myself to 80 hours a year to make it cost efficient to rent hourly (i.e. break even point).

That's 7 hours a month! I'd recommend that people consider getting a reliable used car as the costs associated with it are almost the same, and much more convenient.

Steven Ginsberg: Depends where you park it and if you have to pay for that. I'm also a little skeptical of the $200 maintenance costs. My old Accord and current Civic, both true maintenance champs, cost much more than that, especially as they get older. At any rate, doesn't work for you, does for some others.

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Bethesda, Md.: I got rid of my car and have been a happy Flexcar member since Flexcar started here. I have seen great improvements in the company, such as lots of new cars all over the area, including new Hybrids, partnering with metro for parking, online reservations, and a credit card sized door key (used to be an actual key). The cars are nice and new, and convenient. They have deals where you can rent a car for the day and pay for either 5 or 10 hours depending on how many miles you need. My only gripe is, as someone mentioned, when I used it for shopping once, I reserved the car for x number of hours. Well, if you are stuck in traffic and are late returning it you get charged for an extra hour.

Steven Ginsberg: Yours seems to be the biggest gripe.

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Washington, D.C. -- one other thing: Even if a day rental works out to be cheaper (which often is not the case, if you have to pay for insurance from the rental company), renting a Flex or Zipcar is soooooooooo much easier. Not waiting in lines and dealing with surly rental agency staff ..... ahhhhhh.

One beef with Flexcar - they need to coordinate their local and national systems better. I had a billing problem a few months ago, and was getting bounced from the local office to the national one and back again, over and over - I finally got so frustrated that I put a stop payment on the automatic withdrawals for my monthly bills and told them that until they got their act together, I wasn't paying a dime and I was switching to Zipcar. They fixed the issue pretty soon after that, natch, but I ran into another problem when I had to submit receipts for reimbursement for a time that I had to take a cab because my rental was missing. I got the same runaround ... national, local, national, local -- soooo frustrating!

Steven Ginsberg: Sounds like you get surly staff no matter which you use. I've never used Flex or Zipcar, but it does seem a whole lot easier than dealing with all those rental car company papers.

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Flexcar user: The reason the cars are available is that the 14,000 registered users are often people like me -- folks that use the cars once every other month. I've never had trouble getting a car.

Giving up your car is a tough thing to do, but it's totally possible. I think it's important to stress that car sharing is an OPTION, and that the best way to get people out of their cars is to present many options. It helps complete the bike-walk-metro-taxi loop by filling in where none of the others work.

As far as parking spaces, I don't understand the people who say car share won't help. Flexcar took my car off the street, along with probably 7,000 others. That means there are probably 5 parking spaces opened up for the one that the shared car uses. That's a public benefit. When something benefits the public, it's good policy to have the public invest in it! I mean, we give up road space for bike/bus lanes. Can't we give up one public space to make 5?

Steven Ginsberg: One person's thoughts...

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Washington, D.C.: I agree it is not either or. If I want to take a day or weekend trip to Ocean City, I get a rental. If I need a couple hours to run to the suburbs and pick up something large at 2 AM, I use Flexcar. No I don't usually have to pick up packages at 2 AM, but just an illustration of one other way car-sharing is advantageous in some situations.

Steven Ginsberg: And anothers. (And I'm glad you don't need to pick up anything large at 2 AM.)

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Arlington, VA: Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag. It's been bad enough lately trying to a reservation on my favorite Zipcar, now everyone's going to do it. That having been said, I love the Zip and the money it saves me. And the cool cars I get to drive. But thanks for the article. I'm thrilled to know I'm not alone in my love for the carshare program.

Steven Ginsberg: Sorry man!

That's all the time I have. Thanks for all the great questions and the interest in today's article. My apologies to those questions I didn't have a chance to answer. My transportation colleague, Lyndsey Layton, and I will be back to chat with y'all Monday at 11, so see you then.

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