October 2010


My thoughts on car-sharing: it’s not for me.

It seems really foreign to not own a car—especially as an American. In America it’s as if the second you turn 16, you must get your driver’s license and a car.

Of course it didn’t work that way for me: I’ve always been, for the most part, a public transit kind of guy. I actually got my driver’s license when I was 19 or 20 – I forget exactly when, now.

Certainly I made up for lost time once I got my license—my summer job in Denver was delivering newspapers—specifically the New York Times—and since I have a knack for geography, I could be given a list of addresses at 04:30 and, fairly reliably, get all of the addresses their New York Times before 08:00—even if I was way out in Ken-Caryl Ranch, an egregiously hideous suburb in the foothills where everybody lives on 40 acre ranchettes.

To this day hearing the names “Ken-Caryl Ranch,” “Highlands Ranch,” and “Lone Tree” makes me feel ill and, at the same time, despise urban sprawl. I feel sorry for anybody who lives in these areas—especially teenagers, people forced by circumstance to live there, and people who are trapped there because home values have plummeted.

Plus there is a special place in hell reserved for the asshole who allowed Mountain Brush Circle to intersect with Mountain Brush Circle, in a neighborhood whose streets consisted of Mountain Brush Court, Mountain Brush Street, and Mountain Brush Park.

Enough about that: the point is that upon moving to Germany I sold my (wait for it) 1999 Saturn SL1 and adopted a life of taking public transit for the vast majority of my trips: trains and buses. In Weimar I would take the occasional late evening taxi if I were returning home late enough that the buses were not running often enough.

For six years its worked pretty well – plus I had friends who had cars and I could beg rides from them when I wanted to go to Ikea or to the gigantic supermarkets that never locate themselves in the middle of the city.

In that time I rented a car only, uh… for a wedding at a castle, for a party at a castle, a Smart car (just because), and, honestly, I think one or two more times—so a handful of times.

However with a new home in a new city, my mind started wondering about the possibilities—especially after I walked past a car sharing station located only three minutes from my apartment! Maybe I could join the car sharing program and that way when I wanted a car, I could just walk over and get a car and go: it would be freedom!

Car sharing programs are, I think, an excellent idea: something that proactively discourages people from buying cars. I’ve admired the convenience of car sharing in Washington DC and Chicago – cars parked about town, just pick one up and go! What could be better? Plus it’s environmentally friendly since it reduces the number of cars built and reduces the amount of parking needed—to name two positive side effects of car sharing. I bet I could come up with many more.

Except then I start thinking about it in terms of my lifestyle, I have to pause. I’ve been trying to come up with the times that I would actually need a car, and so far I have come up with two items: Ikea and beverages.

With Ikea I’ve resorted, so far, to either carrying shit on the bus, or taking advantage of my handyman’s car or a friend. My friend is no longer in Berlin and, quite frankly, I don’t have any further big-item Ikea purchases in my future. My furniture is all here and good.

The beverages, though, was an interesting mental game because there’s a beverage store about three minutes from my apartment and I can picture a situation where I would pick up the car, drive to the beverage store (1 minute drive) find the nearest parking space—only to realize that I’d parked in front of my building.

So why bother with a car? Clearly the best solution for beverages is to either make a lot of trips or, perhaps, to buy a small dolly, the ones that old people often use to carry shopping home. Those cost 15-20€.

So where does that leave car sharing and me?

It doesn’t actually make sense for me: the lowest tiers of the car sharing program would limit me to something like 80km a month, and the highest tiers would cost so much that it would just make more sense to just rent a car on those rare occasions when I truly need one.

This is reinforced, at the moment, by the fact that I’m currently paying 55€ a month for an unlimited Berlin AB transit card—and not once in my three months here have I wanted a car for anything beyond Ikea.

Honestly, when I started the car-sharing mental game, I fully expected to have already signed up and been on the go.

I’m forgetting what it means to be an American.

6 comments to My thoughts on car-sharing: it’s not for me.

  • You know, I think you don’t need a car. When i need huge ikea stuff to be delivered for my home, i jsut asked them about delivery and they offer my really nice price for it.

    What is about bevarages and supermarkets, I make few trips or just ask someone form my family to go to shop with me.

    You know, i’ve never had driver licence… Why? I don’t need car and IT’s expensive to own one in Russia…. So, if you want with public transport, don’t use car. As far as i know, many people drive cars only because they hate other people in busses or trains.

    BTW, the bigest bonus form using public transport for me is freedom to do whatever i want during the ride. I can have a nap, or read a book, or check students homework, or just think — no distractions and other stuffs that requere my attention

  • I’m sure there are beverage shops in Berlin that offer free delivery (with a minimum order). I’m sure because I googled for it. 🙂

  • I’d like to be able to get by without a car, but the way cities are laid out here make that nearly impossible, or at least incredibly inconvenient.

  • Michele J

    You saw that BVG cooperates with Greenwheels Carsharing to give a discount to pass holders? http://www.bvg.de/index.php/de/3899/name/Kundenservice/article/719512.html

  • Nikolay Degtyarev – Unfortunately, in the USA one needs to drive. There is rarely public transportation that operates when and where you want it to operate. Especially the places I tend to go.

    Scott — No doubt, but I don’t make the minimums that often. Keep in mind I live alone and rarely party. Although right now I am stocking up for a party at the end of the month. I can make multiple trips to bring home the beer I need for my shin-dig.

    erik – it sucks. I love public transit. There is peace sitting on my bus to and from work every day.

    Michele J – the place that has spaces 3 minutes from my apartment offers a similar discount to BVG pass holders, even though it’s not official. The thing is… I can’t imagine how often I would actually take advantage of having access to a car. I don’t want to drive just to drive, I need to have purpose, a destination, and not just waste fuel.

  • Jeanie

    I have faced this same issue since moving here. I heard about the car-sharing programs here when I first arrived and thought it was great that they were available (they’ve talked about them in Ireland for a while but I don’t think any have actually managed to get set up yet). But I never got around to it and really, public transport is so good here, I don’t need it. For buying anything big, it’s worth my while to pay for delivery since I live on the fourth floor with no lift so need someone to haul it upstairs for me anyway.

    I’ve hired a car twice to help a friend move and that’s it so far. This weekend, I’m going to a friend’s house on Saturday and as where she lives involves one tram, two trains plus 20 mins drive (so either booking a taxi the day before to collect me from train station or depending on her to pick me up and drop me back to the train station), this time I decided to rent a car. Filled with the thought of all the stuff I could do that I normally can’t I even took Monday off work and booked the car for three days. And for the past few weeks I have been racking my brain trying to come up with things I could do. I’ll probably end up going to Ikea just for the sake of doing something in a slightly easier way than normal (Ikea is a tram, an S-Bahn and a bus away for me – all of them only a few stops but altogether kind of a pain).