Imagine if you could walk up to a car on the street, jump in, and take it for as long as you need, and leave it wherever you want. Forget ZipCar, which requires a membership, reservations, and returning your car to a specific spot. Even that is not flexible enough for most people. We want things now, with no inconvenience.
So Communauto–a Quebecois version of ZipCar–wants to really open up the idea of car sharing and institute a program that’s more like bike sharing, with no reservations or drop off spots. They’re in talks with Montreal to make this happen, which would place 400 cars downtown. Need a car, just find the nearest one on your phone and hop in. When you’re done, just leave it in a parking spot. Even better, they’ll charge you by the minute: $0.50 a minute, $15 an hour, with a maximum charge of $69 a day.
There are, quite simply, too many cars in cities. The whole point of a city is that everything is so dense that we can elminate many cars. Yet American car culture is so pervasive that far too many people in urban centers also insist on having an automobile, though its often most unnecessary. It’s those times that it’s entirely necessary that people hold on to as an excuse for car ownership, even though they’re few and far between. Even a ZipCar can’t always anticipate those moments, like a spontaneous decision to buy a piece of furniture that won’t fit in a cab. Implementing these more flexible car shares could cut into city car ownership and city driving in a way that programs like ZipCar never will be able to, because the barrier to entry is so much lower. That, in turn, will make cities work much faster and smoother.
Communauto is still waiting for approval from the city of Montreal, but a similar program–Daimler’s Car2Go–is currently running in Germany, as well as Austin and Vancouver. It’s going well, though points off for ugly Smart cars and not using hybrids or electric cars. Hopefully, Communauto will pick something a little sexier and cleaner.