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Carshare in Cleveland

This was originally written in 2006 and updated in 2013.

Curbed<br />Flexcar, a carshare service started in Portland

With car sharing, you can rent a vehicle for as little as a half-hour. Cars are self-service and parked close to where you live. Here’s the best part: When you carshare, the price includes gas, insurance, and maintenance and you only pay for the time you use. 

Car sharing is in operation in thousands of cities across the globe. The U.S. market is dominated by ZipCar which controls 767,000 of the country's 800,000 members. ZipCar's entry to a mid-tier city the size of Cleveland was paved by a locally-owned company called CityWheels—which served primarily Case and Oberlin College from 2006 until its demise in 2010.  

In sufficiently dense neighborhoods, using a shared car is significantly easier than owning your own car. It can also save you serious cash, says CityWheels founder Ryan McKenzie, and it fits perfectly with an urban, high-tech (mobile phones, swipe cards and walkshed technologies) lifestyle.

Even better, car sharing offers major ecological benefits. Because as much as half the energy ever used by a car (and almost all of the material resources) are used not in the operation of the car but in its manufacture and disposal, sharing cars has an immediate and major ecological benefit attached. If three people share one car to do the same amount of driving they used to do in three separate cars, they have roughly one-third the backstory impact on those trips that they used to.

And it turns out that a lot of people can use the same few cars. Zipcar founder Robin Chase says that they have found that every efficiently-used shared car can replace as many as 20 private cars (that is, cars which users either sell or decide not to buy in the first place). That means that the backstory impacts of all those trips drops to as little as 5% of what it once was.

But the beneficial impacts of carsharing don't stop there. Because car-sharers' driving time is limited and measured (most pay by the hour), they tend to use it more efficiently, making fewer trips and planning routes more effectively, all of which means that they tend to use less fuel to accomplish the same tasks.

Also, because the cars are being used more, they spend less time sitting in parking lots, and as car-sharing becomes more common, we can slash the number of parking spaces in our cities, greatly reducing the amount of space we need to cover with asphalt (if shared cars and carpools were given priority access to the remaining spaces, this would have the additional advantage of disincentivizing people driving alone. We may not go car-free anytime soon, but we could go car-sensible tomorrow.)

Though it may not be right for everyone, carsharing delivers most of the comfort and utility for less money and a fraction of the footprint of driving one's own car around.

Although ZipCar on Cleveland State University's campus is open for anyone (students and faculty get a discount), the growing downtown residential market seems like an opportunity to grow carsharing in Cleveland. Can you think of other markets in Northeast Ohio that would be suited to this sustainable transportation option?

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