Sharing Promotes Car-Free Lifestyle by Leah Shahum

There are a few new cars on San Francisco's streets, and even some ardent anti-car activists are cheering about it. It is the launch of the much-awaited City CarShare program, and its success could ultimately remove hundreds of privately owned cars from San Francisco's streets.

This real World War II poster says it all.
City CarShare, which will open its doors this month, is an innovative mobility service used throughout Europe and growing in popularity in the U.S. By taking advantage of the fact that owning and driving a car is such a hassle in San Francisco, City CarShare will encourage people to get rid of their own cars and instead use communal CarShare cars only when they really need them.

Individual car ownership actually encourages increased car use. Car owners figure that by the time they have paid the fixed costs of insurance, registration and parking tickets, they may as well "get their money's worth" by driving more. By charging specifically for the time and miles people use the vehicle, the CarShare program will make the real costs of car trips more obvious, removing an incentive to drive.

If you're wondering why the Bike Coalition, which served as the original fiscal sponsor for CarShare, would be promoting any car use at all, one answer is not far from home. An estimated 48% of our own membership own cars. For those who balance their biking with the need for driving every now and then to haul heavy loads or take trips out of town, wouldn't it be great if they sold their cars and instead used CarShare occasionally?

"If you only use your car a few times a month, CarShare gives you the excuse to sell it," says Brian Smith, a member of the SFBC Board of Directors who has already joined CarShare. "The issue is the private automobile. If we can replace 10 private cars with each single shared car throughout the city, San Francisco will become much more liveable."

That is exactly what the creators of City CarShare, who are all SFBC members, are aiming for. The nonprofit group's explicit goals include: reducing private car ownership, reducing car usage, encouraging use of bikes and public transit, freeing up urban space for higher and better uses than parking lots, and enhancing the pedestrian atmosphere of the city's streets and public places. The program is already affecting the parking supply by allowing developers to produce fewer parking spaces in return for dedicated CarShare spaces. In the Mission Bay development under way now, for instance, the Mission Housing Development Corporation is building a 100-unit building, which normally would require 100 parking spaces, according to the city's archaic planning code requirement. Instead, because of City CarShare, the developer negotiated down to 75 parking spaces - three of which are committed to car-sharing cars.

"Car sharing has the potential to free us from automobile dependency," says Kate White, Co-Director of City CarShare.

For an example of success, CarShare looks to Switzerland, where the Mobility CarSharing serves 40,000 customers sharing 1,300 vehicles.

To start, CarShare has a total of 12 of its signature green Volkswagon bugs at the following locations: North Beach Garage, Fifth & Mission Garage, Performing Arts Garage at Grove and Gough, Golden Gateway garage at Embarcadero. Costs break down, as follows: $300 refundable deposit, $10 monthly fee, $0.45/mile, and $2 per hour capped at 10 hours per day. There are no charges for gas, insurance or repairs.

The ultimate goal for the City CarShare program is nothing short of visionary: Fewer cars on the streets. More people biking, walking, and taking transit. Parking lots converted to green space. More housing built without the need for private parking. To join, see or call 415-995-8588.