Living in Chicago, we all know that driving can be expensive, especially with volatile gas prices, congestion that can spur fuel consumption, and those dreaded parking fees. (Chicago now boasts the most expensive meters in North America). If you only have an occasional need to drive a car, you may not necessarily feel the need to shell out the cash to purchase your own.
Luckily for you, there is car sharing.
A service that has grown in popularity in recent years, car sharing is for those who want the benefits of a car without the cost and responsibility of maintaining one. It’s also a great option if you need access to a different type of vehicle than what you already drive–a pickup for that trip to IKEA, for instance, or a van to haul all the kids to a White Sox game.
If you have never used car sharing before, here are some basic facts to get you started:
What is Car Sharing?
Car sharing is very similar to renting a car, but it’s done for shorter trips and for shorter period of time, often by the hour. There is a growing field of contenders in and around the city. ZipCar, which has 75 percent of the U.S. car-sharing business, according to Reuters, and IGO, which was founded in Chicago, have been operating here for years. Everything from the reservation, pickup and return is self-service — by phone, online or through a mobile app.
How Much Does Car Sharing Cost?
Generally, if you want to participate in car sharing, you have to pay an application fee to join, and then shell out annual membership fee and then an hourly rate. (Hertz on Demand, which, so far offers just one location in Chicago, waives annual fees.) Many services include auto insurance as part of their rental fee. Though, if you are a car owner and have your own auto insurance policy, your coverage may extend to the car-sharing vehicle and may even match or exceed the car-sharing service’s protection; check with an agent to be sure.
What Cars are Available?
Depending on what program you sign up for, there are a variety of car types available for car sharing. If your tastes run high-end, there’s Exotic Car Share in Palatine, which maintains a specialty fleet, with options like a 5-speed Alfa Romeo convertible. IGO, which is based in Wicker Park and was the city’s first car-sharing service, recently started offering two plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to its fleet of rental cars. (They’re located in the Millennium Park north garage at 201 E. Randolph St. and at 900 S. Clark St. in the AMLI 900 residential tower’s garage).
Is Car-Sharing Right for You?
Car sharing is usually most cost-effective if you don’t drive daily. The Wall Street Journal reviewed a number of car-sharing services, including Chicago’s homegrown IGO, which may help you decide if car-sharing is right for you.