Tag Archives: environmental issues

Car Sharing is Alternative to Expense of Owning One

7 Jun

(originally published in Tucson Green Times May 2010.)

In a majority of American households car ownership is a priority. Folks enjoy having access to a car and being able to drive it whenever and wherever they want.

But sometimes the costs and burdens of car ownership, including insurance, gas, parking, maintenance and environmental concerns, can outweigh the convenience.

While our culture tells us that owning and driving a single occupant vehicle is normal, think about how many hours each day your car sits idle in the driveway at home or in the parking lot at work.

What if there were fewer cars on the road, less traffic, less costs for drivers and each car was being used more efficiently? This utopia can actually become a reality if car sharing programs, which are popular with a subset of environmentally concerned individuals, become a part of our mainstream culture.

Car shares are membership-based car rental programs, which offer a fleet of conveniently located cars, that members can reserve and access by the hour or by the day. These programs offer a viable alternative to car ownership at a low cost and can decrease the community’s fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Carsharing also decreases the number of vehicles on the road, due to members tselling their cars or delaying additional car purchases and instead relying on the car share, walking, biking and public transportation to get around. Members also tend to become more aware of their car usage and take less trips via automobile in general after joining a car share. According to the study “North American Car Sharing,” every shared used vehicle on the road has the potential to remove up to 20 additional cars from the transportation network.

There are for profit car sharing models, such as ZipCar, and outfits run by leading car rental agencies like U-haul’s U Car Share, and there are also localized non-profits, such as City Car Share (in the Bay Area) and PhillyCarShare. Spride Share and RelayRides, are two peer-to-peer car share models, that allow car owners to rent out their vehicles to other members, and are slated to launch later this year in the U.S.

A majority of car sharing programs currently operate in densely populated, urban areas, and most of the members are already environmentally conscious and don’t own a car to begin with. But as car sharing programs become more streamlined and affordable they have the potential to develop attract mainstream users who want to live more sustainably in less densely populated suburban areas.

In fact, there’s a car sharing program right here in Tucson. Through a partnership with the Department of Parking and Transportation at The University of Arizona, Connect by Hertz offers car share membership to U of A students, employees and Tucson residents. The program began in August of 2009 and boasts almost 500 members.

Most car share programs, work in much the same way as Connect by Hertz does, with varying membership requirements, costs and insurance coverage. In Tucson, Connect by Hertz maintains a fleet of hybrid and high mpg vehicles parked near the university of Arizona.

It’s free to sign up for the Connect by Hertz program until August 2010 because the company waives all membership and applications fees during the first year of the program. After August, there will be a $50 dollar annual membership charge and a $25 dollar application fee.

All you need to sign up is a valid U.S. driver’s license and a debit or credit card. Once approved, members receive a card in the mail (for unlocking the vehicles) and can make reservations online or over the phone.

Cars can be reserved weeks, days or hours in advance and rental rates vary by the type of vehicle selected but range between $6.80 and $9.00 dollars per hour. Included in the hourly rental price are gas (there’s a gas card located in each vehicle) and liability insurance, making the car share a pretty affordable option compared to private ownership and traditional car rental. There is also a GPS navigation system in each car, 24/7 roadside assistance and a liberal cap of 180 free miles per trip.

David Heineking, director of the Parking and Transportation Department for the Univeristy of Arizona, says that the local program is the most successful of all of Hertz’s University-based car shares and that the department is in talks with Hertz to increase the number of vehicles in the fleet for next year, potentially adding Smart Cars and Electric vehicles to the mix.

The best way to find out more about car sharing and support it’s growth here in Tucson, is to become a member yourself. “It is free to anyone until August of 2010 to sign up, so there’s no membership fee at all. You should try it!,” Heineking says. If more local residents sign up, there’s more potential for Connect by Hertz to increase the program’s reach within the community by adding additional vehicles and rental locations.

If Tucson residents support car sharing, and show there’s a demand in the community for alternative transportation, we may even see competition from a second for profit or non profit car share organization, which will help local drivers get the best prices.

To join or find out more visit http://www.connectbyhertz.com and select The Univeristy of Arizona.
Membership is free to U of A students, faculty and staff and Tucson residents until August of 2010 using the codes below:

  • U of A students: 1858747
  • U of A faculty or staff: 1858748
  • Tucson residents: 1858749

Trash Day: It May Be Depressing to Read, But Thank Goodness This Garbage Is Getting Covered

4 May

Today is my neighborhood’s trash day. In fact, as I write this there’s a Philly trash truck collecting black bags outside the Good Karma Cafe and some of the crew have stopped in for coffee before getting back into the truck.

I forgot to take out my trash today though. With a small waste-basket under the kitchen sink – I only have a little bit each week. I like to kid myself that I am less wasteful than others. And sometimes I only take out my trash every other week.

I’ll never forget two years ago when all of this trash awareness started. I was sitting in a Chicago airport with a colleague, waiting to board a plane. I was drinking a Starbuck’s tea and he began to tell me about an article he wanted to write that no one would publish. It was about an island of plastic twice the size of Texas found swirling in the North Pacific.

Suddenly, my tea didn’t taste so good through a plastic lid. Looking around I saw the hundreds of other passengers carrying plastic-wrapped goods through the airport. As our plan began boarding, I searched in vain for a recycling can, and had to just throw the plastic away.

When I got home I went online and confirmed that it was true- there were millions of tons of plastics caught in currents in the sea. The trash continent was “discovered” in 1997. How did I not know about this? It kept me up at night.

When I told other people about the “toxic soup” they either laughed, didn’t believe me or didn’t care. For a few weeks I went crazy and avoided plastics at all costs. Then I slowly resumed my regular routine- and other species-threatening crises took the place of the continent of trash.

Today, on my Monday morning news intake I found two articles which re-awakened this issue for me. The first was in the UK Times Online– detailing a new scientific expedition to break up the island of trash. The article explains how the plastic island formed, who discovered it, its devastating effects on the ocean and wildlife and the plan to try and remove the plastic and turn it into diesel fuel.

The second piece is a narrative by Anthony Doerr on The Morning News, in which the young father shares his personal struggle with the garbage crisis. He injects his narrative with jaw-dropping facts:

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey found earthworms in farm fields have an average of 31 pollutants in their bodies, including perfumes, caffeine, household disinfectants, and, get this, Prozac.

… and

Extinctions are currently happening faster than they did when the dinosaurs died off, the world population is more vulnerable than ever to epidemics, and fertilizer run-off in the Gulf of Mexico has created a dead zone—an expanse of ocean without sufficient oxygen to support life—the size of New Jersey.-via The Morning News

Doerr’s not perfect, I’m not perfect- we’re all contributing to the problem. Doerr’s sensitivity to the issue and guilt about his lifestyle are familiar feelings though:

And still, I run our furnace and take long showers and fly on commercial jets. Still, I buy coffee in disposable cups and throw away bagged lettuce that has transformed overnight into dark green mush. What’s my problem?

To be fair, I’m trying. I’m starting. My wife and I recycle everything we can. We buy in bulk. We tell check-out clerks we don’t want bags. We reuse wrapping paper. I ride my bike to work.- via The Morning News

I simply hope these reads give you pause and encourage you to change your habits- even just a little bit.