Wednesday, August 22, 2012

[LOABkw] The Carshare Factor

Life On A Bike in KW is a series of posts about Chris' attempt to get as much done as possible on two wheels, while Erin takes the car out of town to observe birds. How cycle-friendly is KW? 

So far I've seen that life on a bike isn't so difficult. Commuting, errands and groceries are all possible, large swathes of Kitchener and Waterloo have reasonable bicycle access, and I've seen the value of transit in support of cycling, especially as a backup plan. But sometimes, a motorized vehicle is called for.

Perhaps it is a trip out of town to a place not served by our (awful) intercity transit services. Car rentals are fairly cost effective for these needs, especially if it is on a weekend, when a fifty gets you a sedan for two days. (Just make sure you have insurance.)

But for trips around town to haul heavy items, there's no better an option than Carshare.

Grand River CarShare is a non-profit organization that has a fleet of about 20 cars, mostly distributed around the uptown, downtown and university areas. If you become a member, these cars are available to book and use for short trips or long.

I joined as a Simple Plan member (no, not that Simple Plan), which gives me access to Carshare vehicles for $10 an hour (plus HST), gas and insurance included. This definitely adds an overhead cost on trips that require a car, so I put a bit more effort into planning, to make as productive use of the time as possible:

4 five gallon water jugs...
...80kg of water softener salt, some homebrew supplies... and some brews.
Not even a long-tail is going to haul around a couple hundred kilograms of cargo, let's be honest. (Or, maybe it could! But it wouldn't be much fun.)

Like transit, carshare is most useful if it is nearby. Unlike transit, the destination can be anywhere. This key difference, along with the haulage, helps define the niche that carshare serves well. You may need to live in a central location to take advantage of it, but it helps to live in a central location to reduce your dependence on car ownership to begin with. And interestingly, Carshare is a service whose viability and stability and utility all improve as its fleet (and member base) grow.

From a cycling perspective, carshare fills in the gaps that bikes, transit or simple walking aren't suited for. Acting like a safety net in our as-yet car-dominant community, the service gives its members confidence that they won't be hamstrung by that one awkward trip that can't be made without a private vehicle. The Classic and Regular plans suit the car-free who still have a week-to-week need for a car, while the Simple is a great "insurance policy" for 1-car couples, or for the cycling-enthusiastic temporary ornithological bachelor.

Grand River CarShare strike me as a professionally run organization, keenly focused on their mission (and budget). The value they provide for the price is incredible (to the point that I've even asked them how they manage to stay viable.) Given the niche that they fill, they are a strategic asset to KW's transportation mix and we're lucky to have them.

For $40 a year, you could never book a car and still get your money's worth just from peace of mind.

Perhaps they will consider installing bike racks at their car stations, for people to bike to and from their vehicles. (I was disappointed to find that the new Matrix doesn't easily fit my bike and is missing some of the great cargo features that makes our older model Matrix so useful.)

The Park&Union 2012 Matrix. Nice car to drive, but just not as handy as its predecessor.

1 comment:

  1. I used to use the car share, but I discovered that once you need it for over 3 hours, it's cheaper to rent a car. And don't ever leave the city with it because the per km costs (over the 100 free) adds up. What I'd like to get going is neighbourhood car shares where several families split insurance, etc. costs and share a car. Or a system where neighbours can rent out cars to one another. It's possible now (i.e. legal) and the insurance on a car stays with the car, not the driver. It seems silly to rent from a company when there are many cars in my hood sitting idle all day. However, it takes trusting one another and being considerate and all that jazz.