Not everyone can afford or wants to own a car. If you live in the city, you may not need one at all. Given the rising price of fuel and other factors like maintenance, parking, insurance, and environmental considerations, one can make a pretty good argument for sticking to public transit and/or a bicycle, skateboard, scooter, or whatever.
But every now and again, a car comes in pretty handy. For those folks who need one occasionally but don’t want the hassle and expense of ownership and aren’t interested in the traditional car-rental scenario, there are alternatives. Vancouver has a number of car-sharing organizations, and although they have different ways of approaching the situation, they all do essentially the same thing.
Formerly known as the Co-operative Car Auto Network, Modo is the oldest car-sharing organization in Vancouver, founded in 1997. It claims to have over 230 vehicles available to its 7,000-odd members in Metro Vancouver and offers a variety of models, from hybrids to minivans to pickup trucks. “Availability is not an issue with us,” says Tanya Paz, Modo’s business development director. “We’re in six municipalities, and we probably have the most varied selection of vehicles in the world.”
Unlike its rivals, Modo is an actual co-op, and you purchase a membership: permanent, business, or casual. This entitles you to access to the fleet via a key fob, with sometimes as little as 30 minutes' notice, although 48 hours is better. The cars are scattered throughout the Vancouver area in “strategic” locations, and you only pay for the use of the car; there is no charge to phone and reserve a car. Rates for casual users include a $50 membership fee and a $20 registration fee plus $7.50 per hour up to $60. You can use one of the cars for up to 30 days, with a one-hour minimum. Taking one of the vehicles on an extended road trip is okay and you can drive the vehicles across the border into the U.S.
Modo is also a “transit-oriented” organization, according to Paz, and advocates public transit and alternative forms of transportation. “We’re hoping to change the behaviour of people when it comes to public transit,” says Paz. That said, Modo is not set up for carpooling.
Vancouver’s newest car-sharing organization is car2go, which is operated and managed by Daimler Canada and utilizes Smart Fortwos only, some 225 in all. Car2go offers a “floating” arrangement, where cars are available throughout the city and can be reserved up to 24 hours in advance (although reservations aren’t necessary). Reservations can be made through the company’s telephone hotline, with a smartphone app, or via the company’s website. Membership is $35 a year, and rates are $12.99 per hour or $65.99 per day, which includes fuel, parking, mileage, insurance, maintenance, cleaning, GPS navigation, and a 24/7 hotline for customer support.
Car2go actually started up in Ulm, Germany, three years ago, and is now in Hamburg and Austin, Texas, with the company expecting to be in the Netherlands by the end of the year. Once you pick up your Smart car, you can drive it when and where you want—sort of. When you’re done, you leave it in any available permit-only parking spot downtown or in neighbourhoods within the defined area, or in one of 26 specially marked car2go parking spaces. However, car2go’s vehicles are only available for pickup within a 47-square-kilometre area in Vancouver, bounded by 41st Avenue to the south, Burrard Inlet to the north, Nanaimo Street to the east, and Alma and Dunbar Streets to the west. Vancouver is the first city in Canada to adopt car2go, but it’s likely to expand into other urban areas, including Toronto and Montreal.
Last but not necessarily least, Zipcar has outlets throughout North America, with a storefront location in the Waterfront SkyTrain station (280–601 West Cordova Street). With Zipcar, you pay an annual fee of $65 and receive a card that unlocks your car; then you pay as you go. Typical fees start at $71 on weekdays and include gas and insurance. You also get the first 200 kilometres free no matter how long you have the car within a 24-hour period. Zipcar has most kinds of vehicles—hybrids, hatchbacks, vans, sedans—and the vehicles are parked throughout the city. To find out where they are, you go to the website and enter your address or neighbourhood, and a city map will show the cars that are closest to you and what kind they are. Like all of the plans discussed here, Zipcar is primarily a Vancouver-based operation. So if you live in the suburbs and want to commute, you’re pretty much SOL.