I would like to start this post with a disclaimer: I am not an anti-car person, and I never will be.
Motor vehicles are amazing inventions. They increase mobility for the users and allow owners of cars to go wherever they want whenever they want.
However, there are a few drawbacks to a car oriented society: not everyone can afford one because they are expensive to maintain. Also, since our entire build world has become so motor vehicle centric, not owning a car has become a major disadvantage. Our roads are overcrowded, so how can we prevent people from needing to buy a car?
I say "need" because many times, cars are not bought on a "want" basis. Though many times they are, plenty of people buy cars based on "need".
People buy cars if their transportation needs are not adequately met by transit, walking, biking or car sharing. Most of America fits into this category, so it makes sense that most Americans own cars.
Why do I want people not to buy cars?
Well, this is how it usually goes: once someone buys a car, all they use is a car. They no longer consider using buses, bikes or walking because a car is such a large investment. It doesn't make sense for someone to make a large investment for something they will use occasionally. Also, our modern build world reinforces high intensity vehicle usage. When someone buys a car, they reinforce this entire cyclical system.
Though the solution to this problem is multifaceted, I see car sharing as the most important solution to this problem.
I would like to use my own personal life as an example.
I do not own a car. Though I had one when I attended high school in Albuquerque, my brother now uses that car so I have no car out here in Tucson. I have no problem with not owning a car. I enjoy biking to school most days because it stimulates my mind and gives me exercise. On the days when I do not feel like biking (sick, raining, windy, lazy, etc) a bus route passes very close to my house and takes me directly to campus. This bus route is pretty good, as it comes every half hour on weekdays from 5 AM to 10 PM. Since most of my time is either spent on campus or at home, the bus and bike connections work very well for my commute.
But what about everything outside of my daily commute?
Most American driving miles are no longer the simple commute to and from work or school. People need to get to baseball practice, the mall, Baskin Robbins, the movie theater, concert and a billion other locations and events. In most cities, since everything is so spread, you sometimes truly do NEED a car to get to many of these locations.
For example, I need to buy groceries once a week. I prefer going to Trader Joes, which is too far to bike to and inaccessible by bus. Luckily, I have some awesome roommates who let me borrow their car once a week for this journey.
Alas, most people do not have my awesome roommate situation. It is at this point when most people decide that they must own a car. It is these kind of journeys that need to be tackled in order to reduce car purchases. Car sharing is the answer.
How does car sharing work? The most popular car sharing program in the nation, ZipCar, works like this: cars are distributed in a given area. People in this given area sign up for a membership. When members want to use a car, they get on the Internet (or iPhone), find the closest one, scan the car with key less entry, and go for as long as they want. The longer they go, the most they have to pay so there are incentives for people to bring the cars back ASAP.
Now, if there was a bank of these cars in my neighborhood, I would totally sign up. I would not be the only one, as my neighborhood is filled with lower income car free dwellers. The problem is, Zipcar is still a for-profit company. They will only expand into areas where profit margins are high and risk is low. Central Tucson is probably not high on their expansion list.
This is why Ray LaHood and livability proponents need to start doing more work to get local car sharing programs jump started. I am so happy to see the federal DOT give so much more credit to bikes, pedestrians and transit, but these solutions will only go so far. Car sharing should also be a big part of their push for livability.
Though car sharing still involves cars (which I am not a huge fan of) they are an essential part of any solution in society that has only been building car based for at least 70 years. Honestly, they are the most realistic solution to getting cars off the road. Just look at this infographic, and this article (both from FastCompany), for proof.
Let's stop the cycle of people needing to buy cars; add car sharing to a growing list of great solutions.