Our small family has gotten by for years with only one car. We are fortunate that I enjoy bicycling, and that we live in a city with enough density, and with a good enough public transportation system, to make this possible. It’s been a challenge, but it got a whole lot easier this year when we joined car2go. This is a car-sharing service that rents Smart cars by the minute. You pick up a car where ever a previous user left it, drive it to your destination, park it on the street and you’re done. You use a smart phone app to find a car, and you can reserve one 30 minutes in advance. Reserving a car costs nothing, and there’s no penalty for canceling a reservation (or for just letting the time rut out on a reservation). Driving the car costs about 40 cents per minute, but you never have to pay for parking. This can often make it cheaper than driving your own car. It can also be more convenient; even in crowded downtown streets there are always little parking spaces that only a Smart car could fit into.
The service has some drawbacks. There are times when you want a car and none is available nearby. Smart cars’ limit of two people, and their limited cargo space, may make some trips impossible. While parking is usually easy, there are some restrictions. You have to park in a space that allows at least 2-hour parking, and it can’t be one that will become a no-parking zone within 24 hours. (Please note that these parking rules may vary by city.) Lastly, though you can drive the car anywhere, you can only leave it within the local car2go service area. If you run an errand in a neighborhood on the edge of city, you may have to continue to pay for the rental while the car is parked, until you can drive it back into the service area.
As I mentioned above, the per-minute cost is about 40 cents. They limit the per-hour cost to $15, and the per-day cost to $85. Drive it over 150 miles in one trip and they tack on 45 cents per additional mile.
The alternative car-sharing service, ZipCar, is cheaper and provides larger cars. However, it doesn’t have the flexibility of car2go. Each ZipCar has its own parking spot to which it must be returned, so you can’t make one-way trips. Also, you may have to reserve, and pay for, more time in a ZipCar than you really need, just to make sure you don’t return it late.
I’ve found that a small folding bike (with 20-inch wheels), car2go, and the local bus system are the perfect combination. I use the bike as my primary vehicle, extend its range with the bus, and combine both with car2go to make trips that require more flexibility. The bike also greatly increases the radius in which I can find an available car.