Car free and carefree

Not buying into the car culture gives Kaye and Singh more money for other things, including weekend trips. Kaye loves dropping off the keys and never having to worry about "the funny noise."

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Published February 22, 2007 by The Times Colonist 
By Katherine Dedyna 

Canada — Erik Kaye and Nancy Singh have professional jobs, a centrally located house and a darling baby boy.

What do they drive? A 2002 Honda Civic that he walks 20 minutes to pick up at Monterey Centre in Oak Bay. They don't want to bother with the trouble and expense of owning a car, but they like the convenience of getting behind the wheel when they want to.

Kaye will swing home, pick up the family and off they go on a $20 drive-around doing grocery shopping, furniture pickup or whatever else comes to mind.

Like about 140 other households and small businesses, they "own" 10 vehicles operated by the Victoria Car Share Co-op — with more than a dozen more vehicles in negotiation or already supplied by condo developers. Marking 10 years in operation, the co-op started with 37 members and three vehicles in its first year of making pay-as-you-go car ownership possible.

Members pay a refundable $500 to join and a small monthly administration fee, but after that, they only pay when they're in the driver's seat.

Not buying into the car culture gives Kaye and Singh more money for other things, including weekend trips. Kaye loves dropping off the keys and never having to worry about "the funny noise."

"It's so liberating," says Kaye, a Terasen Gas employee who walks to work. "The amount of time and money you spend when you have a car is just unbelievable."

Only once or twice in about 500 outings has Kaye been unable to book "their" car since joining in 1998. A quick Internet search during an interview shows the Monterey car is booked Saturday afternoon, so he'll book the morning.

There's no doubt flexibility and planning are involved with a car co-op. But if there's no car when he tries to book, the co-op pays for a taxi.

Car co-ops are still unexplored territory for most local residents, including people in densely populated core areas of Victoria who could benefit the most, says co-op chair Josh Craig.

Co-op manager Susanna Grimes is more blunt: "A lot of people don't even know we exist."

There has been a recent increase in membership since the co-op finally arranged Internet booking — a longstanding deficit that was just about the only negative feedback.

These days, the non-profit is near break-even status, but like any business, will go in debt short-term to add more vehicles if more members come on board, says Craig, a financial analyst.

"We have such an untapped market, especially in the City of Victoria core with all of these condos being built, that our short-term challenge is really to reach that core market."

Other targets are small businesses and organizations (The Belfry Theatre and Sierra Club already belong) and families with one car that don't want to buy another.

To break even, a vehicle should be used 50 per cent of the time from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. The majority of co-op members use a vehicle three or fewer times a month, bringing the average to less than 40 per cent.

Oak Bay businesswoman Susan Tychie organizes about 50 food deliveries twice a week through Share Organics, but didn't want to buy a dependable truck on top of the family car.

Her driver picks up a 2003 Dodge Dakota at Victoria High School, with her vehicle costs coming to $250 per month.

Part-time government worker Carolyn Zyha lives only "seven and a half minutes" from the James Bay 2002 Mazda Protege parked at the Lord Simcoe apartment. She "hated" owning a car, always feeling ripped off with repairs.

"Even if it cost me the same, I'd still be in a car-share."

Driving costs her only $1,000 per year. With her environmentalism more stoked, she winces at recalling that she once thought nothing of driving her own car all the way to Nanaimo just to shop in a big box store.

Zyha thinks a lot of people would like car-sharing if they tried it. "It's just very hard to make that shift" — especially in society that's increasingly based on instant gratification.

Craig is the first to say it isn't for everyone. A family in a rural area would be better off finding another family and sharing privately.

Several local developers save big bucks by purchasing a new car and $500 memberships for every condo-buyer in their complexes. Municipalities allow these developers to build fewer underground parking spaces if they go the car-share route.

One satisfied recipient is Marc Fornier, 39, a nurse who lives at Short Street Village near Town and Country mall.

The vehicle is parked on condo property and seldom seems to be used by others, who frequently have two cars per unit. "It's very practical when you want to use a car for two or three hours," he says. He pays about $15 for two or three hours spent picking up relatives at the airport or taking visitors to Fort Rodd Hill — much cheaper than taking taxis, he says.

When he moved from Hull, Que., he found he left his car in the garage much of the time because Victoria is much easier to walk and cycle.

"The vast majority of our members have already adjusted their lifestyle to not need a car but want to know that one is available if they need one," says Grimes. "It's not going to solve all your transportation needs, but it can solve the majority."

AUTO OWNERSHIP

Annual cost of car ownership: $8,502 based on December 2004 figures — $1,542 for variable operating expenses and $6,960 for annual ownership costs.

The Canadian Automobile Association no longer provides annual figures. Above based on lower gas prices for a Cavalier Z-24 travelling 12,000 kilometres.

HOW IT WORKS

Victoria Car Share Co-op: Co-operative members pay a refundable $500 for a voting share; $875 for groups.

How to book: Online or through a 24/7 answering service.

Extra advantages: Cheaper car-rental rates.

Where to pick up: Public locales within a five- to 20-minute walk of members.

Cost: $2.55 per hour plus 38 cents per kilometre and about $10 in monthly fees.

Free of charge: From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., allowing members to park it at their homes.

Shortest booking period: 30 minutes

Oldest car: 1994 Toyota Corolla

Newest car: 2006 Nissan Centra

Farthest afield: 1998 Toyota Tercel parked at library in Brentwood Bay.

Membership monthly use patterns: 30 per cent make no trips, most make three or fewer, 15 per cent make four to eight trips.

For more information: www.victoriacarshare.ca; 995-0265 from 1-5 p.m., Tues. to Fri. or visit 12 Centennial Square