What's it like to live a car-less life? Not as easy as it is in an East Coast city with a solid public transit system. But not as hard as you might think, either. Here are the pros and cons, and some accompanying observations.
First, some context: I live about five miles from the downtown buildings where I work. That's an easy bike ride (unless the streets are icy) and a pretty uncomplicated commute by car.
I have nothing against cars. I like to drive. Being carless is not an affectation. On a 1-to-10 life-choice superiority scale, with 1 being Eats Doritos For Breakfast and 10 being Vocally Judges Your Snack Choice, I'm maybe a 3.
That means I recycle pretty religiously and keep a compost pile. But I watch TV and rarely refuse a piece of birthday cake. I keep RTD ticket vouchers next to my Car2Go and Denver B-cycle cards, but I'm not above catching a ride from family and friends.
How's it going?
So far, it's worked out reasonably well.
It would be a different story if I lived outside central Denver, which is the locus of both Car2Go and the B-cycle. It's a half-mile hike from home to the closest B-cycle station, which makes Car2Go my default choice in cold weather.
And sometimes I use RTD. Taking the bus is more complicated.
The bus closest to my house doesn't start its run until after 6:30 a.m. I need to be downtown by 5:30 a.m. several times each week to teach an exercise class. From December to March, the B-cycle is not an option, because the bikes are available only from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. during winter.
I chose Car2Go instead of another car-share program because Car2Go has a vast fleet (about 300 cars), and they're perfect for short hops between work and home, or business meetings.
Other car-share programs I considered — Occasional Car, ZipCar , eGo CarShare — require their cars to be picked up and returned to the program's designated parking spots, none of them close to my house. A Car2Go vehicle can be rented by the minute, not the hour, and picked up and parked at nearly any public space within its roughly 50-square-mile "home area."
With each car-share program's costs roughly the same for the short trips I usually take, and because I need a car well before the sun even thinks about coming up, I chose Car2Go. If I needed a car for a longer period — going outside town to ski or hike — I'd look again at the other car-share programs, or compare prices at conventional car-rental agencies.
This is how it works
The advantages of using a car-share program include the vehicle itself. Car2Go's fleet is all SmartCars. They're user-friendly, relatively energy efficient and surprisingly sure-footed on snow. ( Car2Go's liability insurance covers me and property damage up to $100,000 per person or $300,000 per accident.)
To rent a Car2Go, you pay a membership fee, and a current rate of 38 cents per minute (that includes insurance coverage) while you use it. To access a car, hold your Car2Go card against the card reader under the windshield. Wait until the car unlocks after your information is transmitted.
Inside, punch in an access code, answer some questions about the car's condition, remove the key from its holder and turn it in the ignition between the two seats.
There's a GPS system to help navigate, or skip to the radio screen.
Parking a Car2Go is almost as easy as parking a bicycle. And it's free! Daimler AG, which owns Car2Go, negotiates with host cities to pay for metered street parking.
But there's a downside, especially if you find yourself far from a metered parking space.
For example, I had an assignment at the Denver Zoo. The closest sanctioned Car2Go parking was just east of Colorado Boulevard and East 23rd Avenue, a half-mile from where I needed to go. I was pressed for time, or I'd have taken a B-cycle from the station in front of our building, and ridden to the zoo's B-cycle station.
Instead, I parked just east of City Park, and race-walked to the assignment. Afterward, I decided to bike back downtown, which was fine, except for the part where the top-heavy bike went down on an icy patch. ("Thanks" to the driver who honked from two blocks away, perhaps thinking I didn't realize I'd just crashed.)
A few challenges
Parking in a legal, non-restricted street parking area, or in one of a handful of designated Car2Go spots, can be tricky, especially in congested neighborhoods, like downtown Denver or Cherry Creek North. You can park in a private lot, but you'll have to pay the lot fee, in addition to paying the Car2Go "stopover" fee until the vehicle is back at a street space.
Anyone familiar with downtown Denver knows that finding a parking space can be a challenge. It's especially galling to know you're paying by the minute to find an open meter. My advice for other downtown workers: Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., trawl the less-crowded streets a few blocks away from your destination.
When I rent a B-Cycle, I've learned it's best to use streets adjacent to main thoroughfares — 16th instead of one-ways 17th or 18th avenues. Take a lesson from Robert Frost: He preferred the road less-traveled.
Using a Car2Go, a B-Cycle or traveling by bus helped me develop a keener appreciation of time and money.
In my own car, I overestimate how long it takes to drive somewhere. A trip from home to work in a Car2Go typically costs between $5 and $7, a bit more than I'd expected.
But it gets me downtown much faster and more directly than the bus or the B-cycle. It's efficient in a way that's comparable to buying a song instead of the whole CD.
Paying for a car by the minute, or for a bicycle by the half-hour, has pretty much eliminated any non-essential travel, and non-essential spending. Farewell, retail therapy.
If I need groceries, I park near a supermarket in the Car2Go home area, and immediately reserve the car for 30 minutes. Then I hustle through the store without pausing for impulse purchases, and get back to the car before the 30 minutes are up, so I can get the groceries home.
It works, more or less, most of the time. If I need to go beyond the home area (outside of which a Car2Go can't be parked), I'll take a Car2Go, park it near my daughter's car, drive her car to my destination, and then return it to her and look for a Car2Go nearby.
The bottom line
Being car-less is complicated in the short run, but in the course of a year, I'm saving around $1,000 on car insurance and even more on gas and maintenance costs.
If you choose to go this route, you'll become familiar with the Car2Go app that searches for and reserves vehicles. You'll probably walk more, because the nearest Car2Go vehicle is rarely right outside your home or office.
If you're also a B-cycle member, combining the two systems works well, especially during non-winter months, if you primarily travel between your home and downtown Denver. In a few weeks, when the wind chill drops and the ice melts, I'll probably spend at least as much commuting time on the B-Cycle as I do now in the Car2Go. It's less expensive, and the half-mile walk home will be a pleasure instead of an ordeal.
Or I can hope the Denver B-Cycle folks could put a station or two east of Colorado Boulevard. Car2Go expanded its home area in response to demand in Stapleton and Lowry. Other eastern Denverites would welcome bike-share stations, too.
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, email@example.com or twitter.com/byclairemartin
Sign-up fee: $35 plus tax
Look for promotions; often you can get a discount on the joining fee, or some free driving minutes.
Cost per minute (including stop-overs): $0.38, plus tax
Cost per hour: $13.99, plus tax
Cost per day: $72.99, plus tax
Cost per mile on a trip of 150 miles or more: 45 cents, plus tax
Cars can be parked at any public street parking spot, a designated Car2Go spot, or metered parking space within the specified keyhole-shaped Home Area (I-70 on the north; Santa Fe Dr. on the west; Central Park Blvd/Yosemite St./Lowry Blvd/Fairmount Dr. on the east; Alameda Ave with a jog down Colorado Boulevard to E. Yale Boulevard on the south.
IIf you park outside the Home Area, you will be charged a stop-over fee per minute, up to the cost per hour or per day. Study the Home Area carefully before checking out a car. The west side of Colorado Boulevard between Alameda and E. Yale Ave. is Home Territory, but that stop-over fee starts if you park the car on the east side of Colorado Boulevard.
Also, you'll need to pay for parking outside the Home Area, or at a private parking facility.
Car2Go vehicles are available 24 hours a day.
Car2Go members can reserve a specific vehicle for only 30 minutes prior to driving that car.
Denver B-Cycle To check out a B-Cycle, you need to buy an access card. Check the Denver B-Cycle's Facebook page for promotional deals.
Seven-day access fee: $20
30-day access fee: $30
Annual access fee: $80
With an access card, the first 30 minutes of using a B-cycle are free. Using a B-cycle for 30 to 60 minutes costs $1. After 60 minutes, each additional 30 minutes costs $4.
B-Cycles must be returned to B-Cycle stations; position the front wheel until there's an audible click.
Charge for abandoned B-Cycle pick-up (not parked at a B-cycle station): $35
Charge to replace a B-Cycle: $1,080
Charge to replace lost B-Cycle card: $5
Denver B-Cycle bikes are available year-round, but check-out is restricted to 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. during the winter.
Because of the basket and internal technology, B-Cycles are far more heavily weighted on the front wheel than most bicycles.
Budget extra time during your first few check-outs to get used to handling the bike, especially on corners. If you are unlucky enough to rent a B-Cycle when your customary bike route is icy or snow-packed, look for a different route with clear pavement.
B-Cycles have three gears, which makes it relatively easy to climb hills, and then transition back to a higher resistance to pick up speed on level terrain.
Never ride B-Cycles on the sidewalk; this is posted in the warnings on the top-heavy frame over the front wheel. Ignore the advisory at your peril: Denver police have ticketed cyclists, including B-Cycle users, for riding on the sidewalk, even within a few feet of a B-Cycle station.
The B-Cycle, like Car2Go, are best for very short trips in the downtown Denver area. The B-Cycle territory is even more restricted than the Car2Go Home Area, with stations concentrated in downtown Denver, Cherry Creek North to City Park, and a handful of stations near the University of Denver. — Claire Martin