Share and Save

by Carl Duivenvoorden (www.changeyourcorner.com). Carl is one of 22 Atlantic Canadians trained by Al Gore to deliver presentations of 'An Inconvenient Truth.' His column runs every other Monday in the Telegraph Journal.

For many of us, the expression “Share and share alike” brings to mind parental advice to help us get along better with others. But if sharing is good for keeping our friends in the sandbox happy, it can also be good for the pocketbook and really good for the planet.

That’s especially true when it comes to transportation. According to Environment Canada, cars, light trucks and SUVs account for 12% of this country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicles, fuel, insurance and other costs also figure prominently in most people’s personal budgets too.

But bike sharing and car sharing are two new and innovative ways to save money and do a good thing for the environment at the same time.

Bike sharing

Bike sharing programs originated in Europe a few decades ago, and they’re gaining popularity in urban centers across North America. Huge programs have recently been launched in Montreal and Washington, DC.

A bike sharing system consists of a network of self-serve kiosks where riders can rent bicycles quickly and cheaply. The kiosks are placed in strategic locations across a community, such as transit connection points and other high-traffic areas, to make bikes available to as many riders as possible.

Bikes can be rented from any kiosk with the swipe of a smartcard. Availability of bikes at a particular location can be checked out in advance on-line. Riders can use their bike for as long as they like, and then drop it off at any kiosk across the entire system.

Different bike sharing systems have different rental fee structures. Some charge just a flat fee, others charge just a fee-per-use, and others charge a fixed fee plus a usage charge. For example, Montreal’s bike sharing system, Bixi (www.bixi.com), costs $78 per year. Rentals of 30 minutes or less are free, but longer rentals cost – and the rate goes up the longer you rent. Bixi’s fee structure is designed to encourage quick return of bikes so that they can be made available to more riders.

Bike sharing programs have several benefits. They can enable people who live a kilometre or two from public transit to get to and from their nearest transit access point without needing a car. They allow people to make quick hops between downtown locations without the need for parking. They promote wellness and physical activity, and by taking cars off of the road they promote cleaner air.

Car sharing

Car sharing programs are similar. Shared cars are available at depots or parking lots spread across a community. Program participants can go on-line to reserve a vehicle for a set period of time, from a few hours to a few days. They then go to the specified depot at the specified time, and the car will be there waiting for them. When they are finished with the car, they just return it to the same depot.

Car sharing programs offer savings, simplicity and convenience. Fee structures vary by program, but monthly fees usually cover most of the typical costs of vehicle ownership –purchasing, insurance, maintenance and more. In other words, for one monthly fee, you can say goodbye to the hassle and cost of car ownership.

Other benefits include reduced parking costs, less traffic congestion, better air quality and reduced impact of manufacturing since fewer vehicles are needed. As well, since fees are based on time and mileage, participants have an incentive to drive less.

Car sharing is well suited to people who use public transit but need a vehicle occasionally for shopping, vacation and other out-of-town trips. It can also offset the need for a second vehicle.

There are hundreds of car sharing programs worldwide, including CarShareHFX in Halifax (carsharehfx.ca) and Communauto in Quebec (www.communauto.com).

Share and save

Bike and car sharing programs haven’t come to NB yet, so both represent ownership or franchising opportunities for local budding eco-preneurs.

From a global perspective, everybody’s in the same big sandbox, planet earth. It makes sense to share, to keep everyone happy and the sandbox habitable. Bike sharing and car sharing are great ways to do that.