When I first moved to San Francisco, I witnessed the cold reality that owning a car kills the freedom driving originally promised me.
In a city, owning a car doesn’t make me free. Rather it adds responsibility, expense and anxiety.
Let’s see if ditching my car in favor of the sharing economy will provide a better lifestyle or just an empty promise…
Hidden costs of owning a car in San Francisco
Within two weeks of moving from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, my car was towed twice costing more than $1,200. Between paying over one thousand dollars in stupidity tax and getting tickets for things I didn’t even know about like curbing my wheels or parking in spot that’s near a crosswalk, I’d about had it.
Instead of giving in and selling my car in favor of public transit and new sharing economy options, I resisted with the stubborn mentality that I could have my cake and eat it too.
After unsuccessfully trying to find a neighbors driveway to park in on Craigslist, I located a parking garage near me that was reasonably priced at $200 per month, only open from 8am-8pm M-Sat. At this point, I could sleep at night without having panic attacks alerting me to the location and safety of my car. I’d literally wake up to a jolt of “Ohhh shit. Where is my car? Akkk what day is street cleaning? What if I missed a sign? Could I have missed a last minute construction zone?!?”
Even with my $200/month garage, nighttime adventures meant street parking as the garage closed at 8pm.
Then there came the realization that I loathe city driving. Add that to the fact that it’s a $10 minimum to park anywhere in the city for more than a few hours. And even with meters, I always worried about $70 tickets and an impending tow. (Just as a side: 70,000 cars are towed per year in San Francisco alone)
So then I thought…
Why not just rent my car when I’m not using it?
And then I started using Getaround, making $150-250 per month lending my car out. While that barely covered the cost of parking, it was something. And I loved learning first-hand how car sharing works and what it can mean for our future.
You can read more about that in It’s a Shareable Life when it comes out at the end of this Summer.
What are the actual costs of owning a car?
I never put together all of the costs directly associated with owning a car until just recently. In my research, most people spend between $6,000-$10,000 per year on car ownership, whether they own the car or not.
My costs are actually more like $700-800 per month, depending on how much I drive (this includes $144 car payment, $120 insurance, $200 parking, $120 gas, registration, maintenance and parking). You’ll notice, this doesn’t even include the almost guaranteed cost of parking ticket or getting towed.
Anyway, I digress.
The point is, most cars spend 92% of their lives parked. I can’t stand that statistic. This means, this big hunk of metal spends almost all of it’s capacity wearing out, immobilized and rusting.
Not to mention the fact that it costs me $800 per month or $9,600 per year to own I car I rarely use. Like most people, my car is the second largest expense, next to my place of residence.
I was skeptical at first about Getaround and especially Zipcar, which seemed cost prohibitive for weekend trips. Now, I understand things differently. I see both GetAround and Zipcar as awesome options for longer trips and out of town excursions. More on that in a bit.
I still needed transportation within the city that wouldn’t leave me hanging, stuck or wasting time, left out in the cold.
I swear, I’ve tried to love SFMTA. BART is fantastic, but living in Lower Pacific Heights means I have to bus most places. There are a few lines that are on target every time and I take those, paying $2.00 per ride. If I have a short meeting, the ticket works both directions as it’s good for a few hours.
Much of the time, the buses are late or never come. Plus there are hundreds of unmarked bus stops in San Francisco. I won’t even get into the characters that ride the bus or go off an a diatribe about the drivers. You get the picture.
So other options included taxis and uber. I just had my first uber experience a few weeks ago and it got me thinking different about transportation. I thought… wow, if I can get anywhere I want to go immediately without waiting or hesitation, how would my life change? What opportunities would become within reach? How much time could I reassign to other activities? Would I actually save money?
That’s when I decided that I’d try taxis more often and try think of them as an investment.
With more than 20 taxi rides under my belt in a short period of time, I wanted to shoot myself in the head. They never knew where they were going and constantly relied on me and my GPS to get them there. They talk on their phone. Often the taxi drivers get all agro when I ask to use a credit card and frequently, even that doesn’t work.
They expect the world and provide little more than a vessel to get me somewhere. Not only that, they seem so unhappy. It’s a rare occasion that I get a taxi driver who seems glad to see me or provide service to me as a customer… it’s more like a favor. And it’s expensive! Taxi rates just went up in September of 2011 by 20%, making San Francisco taxis some of the most expensive in the country.
Uber is great, but it’s expensive for regular trips. At $40 to get 1.5 miles on a rainy day a few weeks ago, I’d rather walk and save that money for a decent dinner.
Getaround and Zipcar
As I mentioned, I rent my car out through Getaround and recommend you do too. Check out the 5 reasons you should share your car.
You’ll subsidize the cost of car ownership and feel good about helping your neighbors out. Plus, you won’t have to rest with the knowledge that your second largest expense sits unused most of its life.
Is Zipcar with the price tag?
I never liked Zipcar. I thought it was pricey and an elitist attempt at being green, whatever that means. Overnight trips costs $80-100 per day. What?! I can rent a car for $30-45 per day.
But, take a step back with me.
With Zipcar you can rent newer, nice cars like the VW Mini Cooper, which zips around like a dream. I feel powerful when I drive that little thing.
And say I take HWY 1 to Santa Cruz to visit old friends and zen out for the weekend… normally gas costs me $60+ and I have to work within the limits of my garage which means I have to park on the street when I come home on a Sunday. A Zipcar costs me $200 for 48 hours on a weekend, but the beauty is 180 miles per day are included with gas paid for, which reduces the cost to more like $70 per day.
Then consider that if anything happens to the car, I’m 100% covered with no deductible (with $9 monthly fee), using Zipcar insurance. So that lowers the cost to more like $40 per day for the cost of using the car itself.
And then there is the convenience factor. Zipcar has a zillion cars two blocks from my house in a garage where I can return them 24 hours a day. The only drawback here is that Zipcar requires you to plan ahead and know exactly how long you need the car. It’s really difficult to extend or change plans as they have other people to want to reserve the same car.
But the flip side of that is that I can reserve whatever car I want ahead of time and know that it will be there and I can cancel or change my reservation within 3 hours of pickup time with no penalty (for hourly rentals) and a 24 hour cancellation policy with no penalty (for daily rentals).
Using Getaround as a renter
I’ve only rented a car once through Getaround and my story can be found here in this silly little poorly compiled video, but you’ll get the idea of my experience being on the renter side of the equation.
I recently discovered a new service, which a friend who works at airbnb adoringly called “Uber for common folk.” While I don’t like that delineation, he’s right. Most people will not use Uber, which is a private car service that costs nearly two times what a taxi would.
Sidecar is a peer-to-peer taxi service (which can also be explained as a community rideshare) comprised of drivers who volunteer to give people rides and work for donations. The donation is pretty clear and most people pay the suggested donation or beyond to keep the service running.
The amazing thing is that Sidecar is 20-30% cheaper than a taxi and is just as personal and efficient, if not more than uber. When I need to take short trips across town, I’ll be using Sidecar and suggest you do too. Please note: The availability of daytime trips are currently spotty as Sidecar is building up driver base in San Francisco. Although, weekends and evenings… you should be good to go.
Sidecar provides the flexibility and personalization of Uber and gets you where you need to go with door-to-door service and a smile. Plus, I can rest easy knowing that the drivers are earning some extra cash as many of them are in between jobs, retirees, students, etc. driving as a volunteer and community member.
Ridesharing on road trips and long hauls
Then there are the long road trips. Sometimes I drive up to Oregon and others I just want to take a short jaunt to Santa Cruz. I love filling the empty seats, covering costs and having company while helping someone out. It meets a slew of my needs all at once!
So while I’ve had the most success posting rides on Craigslist and Google stalking the heck out of them, I can also recommend Zimride and RideJoy, which integrate the social graph a bit more than Craigslist and give you an idea of how your potential seat mates might be.
Arbitraging Zipcar with Zimride
On my last trip to Santa Cruz, I decided to try arbitraging Zipcar with a Zimrider as another little experiment.
I rented a car on Zipcar and looked for someone to share the ride Santa Cruz by finding someone who wanted to go the same direction on the same day and split the cost.
Zimride finally worked! After the third time trying Ridejoy, Zimride and Craiglist in tandem, I got matched really cool guy who needed a ride to the Cruz.
We took the Mini Coop I’d rented from Zipcar down HWY 1 and had a lovely afternoon discussing life and the meaning of everything. And we even had a relaxing meal along the beach in Half Moon Bay. I got Jesse where he needed to go and arbitraged Zipcar, go figure. 😉 I wonder if that’s even legal?Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)?
I don’t need a car
I’ve been attached to the perceived independence owning a car typically provides.
The reality is – I am more free without a car.
I save money.
I don’t stress about tickets or parking.
I give a little love to the environment.
I get places faster.
I make new friends.
While I haven’t sold my car yet, my Xterra is parked at a friends house near the outskirts of the city and I haven’t driven it for more than a month, only rented it on Getaround.
I’m thrilled to sell the car and utilize the efficient, social sharing economy life has provided me in San Francisco and beyond. Anyone want to buy it?! I’ll cut you a deal.
Join me in ditching your car!