Baby, You Can Drive My Car: Shared Wheels When You Want Them


In a blurry past life, I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam and there are only a few things that I remember. One of them was bicycles, everywhere, including ones that didn’t seem to have an owner. It wasn’t like an official program or anything, but there were these jalopy rides we knew about, that you could just grab, ride where you liked and then bring back to (just as an example) the bar for the next guy to use. This wasn’t a particular green-focused practice, but more of a simple communal thing that seemed to make sense to me. I recall a conversation (not so vividly, I admit) that went like, “Dude (cough, cough), this is so cool, man – they should be doing this back in States!” “Oh, man (cough, choke), they don’t even ride bikes in the States. It’s, like, you gotta have a car back home, dude.”

Well, yeah, we do love our cars here, man – and there’s nothing free on this side of the pond. But that doesn’t mean the idea of car-share and share alike doesn’t make sense, right? Especially when we’re talking about choking on a different substance than that which permeated the Amsterdam air I don’t remember so well.

Zipcar is car-sharing company that has tons of cars waiting around for its members to use and then leave where they found them for the next guy. It’s a pretty simple system where you apply online for a “Zipcard” (they run a driving-record check, of course), locate a car in its reserved parking spot near you (everything from MINIs to pickups to Prii – what’s plural for Prius?), make reservations online and off you go. There’s even a sweet iPhone app (named by Time magazine as one of The Best Travel Gadgets of 2009) for when you’re on the go. The rates are fairly reasonable and vary from place-to-place, city to city. Here in San Francisco, they start around $6.50 an hour after you pay a membership fee and depending on your plan. The Zipcard locks and unlocks your car (keys stay inside) which comes with gas included, reserved parking and insurance.

Of course, we at EcoSalon – who recently proclaimed that renting is the new buying – are looking through the green lens here, and the enviro-case for Zipcar and companies like it, is pretty clear: Not to figure you to death, but according to, one shared car replaces eight or more individually owned cars, 15 percent of members give up a car when they join such a service and 25 percent don’t buy a new one once they’ve sign up. Moreover, 27 percent of members use more “transit.” All this equates to a 55 percent driving reduction among members. (And for you exercise buffs, a 25 percent increase in “biking/blading.”) Okay, so I figured you to death. Sorry.

Anyway, there’s more good news on the emissions front from Zipcar, which is the nation’s largest car-sharing service. As reported in USA Today, 15 percent of the company’s fleet are alternative-energy vehicles, and it’s now also offering plug-in hybrids in San Francisco.

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at