Car sharing and integrated sustainable mobility planning
In San Francisco, City Car Share is a nonprofit car sharing service. Zipcar is also present there, but we didn't use it while we were out there--instead we had a week pass for the MUNI system (bus, streetcar, light rail, and cable car) and we paid to use the BART (I almost said Metrorail, it's pretty similar to the WMATA system) to get to and from the airport. (Note that they have a $3 surcharge for rides beginning or ending at the airport.)
Innovative services from nonprofit car sharing organizations
In Philadephia, there is Philly Carshare and in Montreal, Communauto. Communauto has interesting bundling options with the Bixi bike sharing system and the local transit system and they are even testing using the STM Opus card (like DC's Smart Trip card or London's Oyster card) to be able to check out cars. Similarly, City Car Share is testing e-bike share, and Philly Carshare (like Autolib in Paris) also has a number of electric cars.
One advantage of nonprofit car sharing is that aren't trying to make a profit for investors. And they have more leeway to work to achieve other positive sustainable transportation mobility objectives, not just profit maximization.
On the other hand they still have to pay for the cost of capital and they have to bank money to buy more cars when the first batch "wear out," so it's not necessarily true that nonprofit car sharing services are much cheaper than for profit car sharing services.
Still, as someone trying to sell bike sharing systems, what I find frustrating is that it is hard to sell the idea of mobility integration in an RFP response, because very rarely are RFPs structured to foster integration between services.
Car sharing as an integral element of a complete package of sustainable mobility services
For example, the transit system in DC is pretty good so that walking + transit works well (if occasionally uncomfortable) especially if you live in the core, close to a subway station, and your primary destination (work, school, etc.) outside your neighborhood is next to a transit system.
But walking + transit + biking is even better--note that 51% of all household trips in the US are three miles or less, so that trips of this distance are easily achievable by bike at the same time or less (when you consider the time to park) compared to transit or driving and way faster than walking.
But walking + transit + biking + car sharing expands your mobility much more so that living without owning a car is a logical and practical (and cost-effective) choice. (And is even better if you get transit benefits from work.)
What do you do if you live outside the core? Transit isn't as efficient. And walking to activity centers is a lot less convenient because typically they are much farther away.
Ideally, either you live close to a transit station or on a bus line, but being "bus dependent" is much less convenient, unless you are on a high frequency route. While DC has many such routes such as up 7th Street/Georgia Avenue, 14th Street, 16th Street, or H Street/Benning Road, even so trips can be very long because of the number of stops. (Riding up Georgia Avenue on my bicycle, which is hilly enough, frequently I beat buses to the Petworth Station, starting from around Rhode Island Avenue, although yes, when I can I do run stop lights.)
But by combining modes, bike + car share + transit, it is very much possible to not own a car and not to be too constricted as a result. (Although taxi availability is minimal, which is another issue.)
One way car sharing service as a new addition to the mix
Traditional car sharing is two way. The cars have specific "homes" and you make a reservation for a two-way trip, taking the car back to where you found it, and keeping control of the car for all moments of your trip, even periods where you don't use the car.
The wrinkle of Car2Go as a car sharing service fit that it's a one-way service. So you can take the car and not have to put it back where you got it (unlike Zipcar). This means that on a trip where you took transit to get there, on the return Car2Go can be used instead, because maybe you have a lot of packages and you'd rather go directly to your door--rather than your having to walk from a subway station or bus stop. And in any case, it usually is a cheaper substitute for taxis.
For example, rather than wait at the airport for a taxi, we took the subway to L'Enfant Plaza, picked up a Car2Go and drove the rest of the way home. The combination of subway + car share was still cheaper than a taxi.
Car sharing rates
-- Philly Car Share rates
-- City Car Share rates
-- DC Zipcar rates vary a bit by day of the week, and range from about $9 to $16/hour, depending on the type of vehicle. The fleet includes vans and trucks--we used a truck last week to avail ourselves of a freecycle-like opportunity to get a file cabinet from another Takoma DC household.
-- Car2Go rates. Car2Go is about 40 cents/minute. So after 25 minutes, Zipcar is cheaper. (But Car2Go may still be cheaper than a taxi.) But not if you have to do a round trip...
The nonprofits tend to charge a hefty monthly fee ($10 to $20/month) plus an application fee, but lower hourly fees and maybe mileage charges depending on the type of membership, while Zipcar charges $50/year to participate and includes 150 miles per use.
Both Zipcar and Car2Go allow you to use their services in their other cities in the US. Car2Go does not allow North American members to use their services in Europe. But apparently North American Zipcar members can use Avancar, the name of the service in Europe, in the UK and Barcelona.
Making your mobility choices
Figuring that it costs about $7000 per year for a car, we think of our transportation budget that way. Suzanne gets a transit pass. We use a Zipcar a couple times/month. We rent cars some. We use Car2Go some--Car2Go is cool because you can just go up to a car, and if it isn't reserved, you can take it right then. I bike mostly, and it probably costs $200/year on average for bike maintenance, plus a new bike every few years. And I spend some money on transit. Let's say we spend $2000 total on transportation--the $5000 in costs foregone is equal to three mortgage payments.
Of course, we've made location decisions that make living this way a convenient choice. It'd be very hard to live like this in Gaithersburg...