Revolutionary Idea: Vancouver Cooperative Auto Network

Travis Smith joined the Vancouver Cooperative Auto Network. Essentially, you pony up some money and buy into a shared vehichle that you own, have access to, and share with other like minded people in the cooperative. Sounds kinda hippy to go mainstream, but I’m proud that Travis and Vancouver are participating. Here’s his answers to some of the things I was wondering about too

“Q: Are the cars nice?
A: Yes, in that they are clean, not beat up, and appropriate for my activity (driving around grocery shopping and taking the cat to the vet). No, in that they don’t have power windows, power door locks, CD players, etc. These are get-you-there cars. However, they did just add a Mini to the fleet!

Q: Are the cars parked near me?
A: Yes, not too far away. The closest is about 4 blocks, and there are several within 8 blocks. They’re parked in stalls in apartment building lots mostly, but sometimes just on certain streets, like in a certain block. If you can’t find parking in the same spot you took it from, you call the CAR office, and tell them where you left it. Or, you just wave at the person who’s taking the car out after you and drop it off in a loading zone — the cars are in pretty constant use.

Q: How do you book it?
A: Their Web site doesn’t say so, but there’s a very well written online reservation system. You can sign out a car at any time, though you have best luck if you grab it at least 48 hours in advance. You have to book in advance.

Q: Do they charge a monthly fee, an hourly fee, or a mileage fee?
A: Yes, all three! But even so, it’s pretty cheap. $15 a month flat rate, plus $2 an hour, plus $0.28 a kilometer. So a two hour trip to Ikea would cost $11.56, and that includes gas.

Q: Include gas?
A: Yeah, I have to fill the tank and return it at least half full. But any money I spend on gas, the CAR network reimburses me by taking it off of my month payments. Ditto for any small repairs to the car.

Q: That’s it?
A: Money-wise, just one more thing. You buy into the Co-op with a $520 payment. They give $500 back to you when you leave the program. There’s other little rules, but that’s the gist of it.

Q: So it took how long to sign up?
A: You have to go to an in-person orientation that takes about 90 minutes, the main point of which is to tell you the extrea-special secret of how to get into all these cars. It’s a secret so dire, that even to know that it exists means you have to pull out your own tongue. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Q: So are you, Travis, now saving the Earth?
A: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t think so. Sharing a car does mean that there are less cars sitting idle. But are there less miles being driven? Some say yes, some say no. Is it better for the Earth if I take the car or public transit? I dunno, but probably public transit. The car wears out after the same amount of miles, and uses gas, and wears out the streets. All I can think is that with this system, perhaps the cars are kept in better shape — but most modern cars have pretty similar exhaust and pollution levels. And also, it’s better to drive the right car for your needs, and onyl drive a van or a truck when you need it, instead of having one that you always use. But no, I think that CAR saves me money (I don’t need car insurance or parking or anything like that) and is a convenience, but not necessarily a huge environmental boost.

Q: Will you, Travis, keep using it?
A: It’s hard to say. I like it. I’d like it more if there was a car closer, i.e. not up a big hill. There’s also a car sharing agreement with Victoria, and cars in several nearby small towns, so I can take the ferry over to the island and then have a car. That’s pretty handy.

Q: Can anyone join?
A: The women I went through orientation with was a hair dresser who was bummed because she’d probably have to get a watch so that she could return the car on time. And maybe a cell phone. And a checking account. So if she can join, I think just about anyone can 🙂 Basically, you need three year’s good driving history and a not-bad credit rating, plus the $500 cash.

Q: What’s this about parking?
A: OK, no one actually asked me this, but I always pointed out that you can park in any permit-only parking zone in Vancouver. How cool is that? Now, if only you could park at parking meters for free….”