Big Question Marks

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Living car-free -- almost

Summertime's the time of year when really we wish we owned a vehicle. Unfortunately, without a car, there are no breezy summer road trips, no camping weekends, and no beach days to be had — at least not without quite a bit of effort and cost.

Still, we both agree that as long as we live downtown, there's no real need for our own wheels. IKEA delivers if we ever need a new piece of furniture. The TTC can help us transport a large floor fan from Canadian Tire to the apartment. And all we really need to grocery shop is a bicycle and a backpack.

But since last week, we are car-less no more! Nope, we didn't give up our savings to buy ourselves a snazzy new hybrid (though that would be kind of cool). We joined Zipcar!

For those of you new to car-sharing, it's a great concept perfect for the many downtown-dwellers like us, who only want a car occasionally to run errands. Basically, you pay a membership fee to join the organization, then rent cars by the hour. The vehicles are based at various parking lots around the city, and it's a fully-automated system — so you make a reservation, show up with your Zipcard (a keycard which unlocks your car), and you're off. There's no paying for gas or insurance, and the scheduling system's incredibly flexible. There are two car-sharing companies in Toronto at the moment — Zipcar and Autoshare — and while there are pros and cons to both, when Zipcar posted a deal last week offering a year's membership for $35 (including $50 of bonus driving credit), it sold us!

Soon after we got the membership package in the mail, Dayle had to cart a large item from work to home. Normally, this would have been a job for a taxi, but it was also an excellent chance to try our first Zipcar. We booked it from 6:30-7:30pm, and figured we could run at least a few errands during our hour. Here's what happened:

6:30pm: Adrian goes to the designated parking lot to get the car. The car isn't there. He waits. He paces around the block. After waiting 10 minutes, Adrian calls Zipcar to complain. No answer from the helpline.

6:45pm: The car appears in the lot while Adrian is around the block. No sign of the inconsiderate driver, but at least we've got the car. Adrian zooms over to Dayle's workplace to pick her up.

6:55pm: Though we could have been dropping things off at our apartment by now, a little Craigslist hunting had found that there may be free furniture waiting curbside in a nearby neighbourhood... perhaps a desk chair! We take a small detour up Spadina. BIG mistake.

7:05pm: By this time, we've made it only a few blocks north on Spadina in the gridlocked traffic. Our first lesson: don't rent a Zipcar during rush hour... it's not zippy at all. Worse yet, we get stuck behind a French fry truck and get really hungry.

7:10pm: We abandon furniture plans and turn around at U of T. While looping down a skinny side street, we are suddenly blocked by someone pulling a ridiculous 16-point turn and bumping parked cars. Lesson #2: Lots of people in Toronto don't know how to drive. Yarrr!

7:15pm: We make it back to our apartment and unload the car in a frenzy. We debate whether there will be time to return the two boxes of empty beer bottles that are too annoying to walk over to the Beer Store with. Fearful of more traffic, we decline.

7:25pm: Adrian drops Dayle off and returns to the parking lot, greeted by a frantic woman who tells him he's late returning the vehicle (the clock says 7:29!) and she contacted Zipcar.

7:35pm: Adrian calls Zipcar again to defend himself against the woman's complaint (late fees are pricey). This time he reaches someone, and tells them we didn't get our car until 15 minutes after our scheduled time. The agent says, "No problem!" and credits Adrian an extra half hour ($4) for his troubles. We are happy drivers again!

The moral of the story: next time, reserve the car for more than an hour — our errand-running was just a bit too manic for our liking. We also won't drive right after office hours — though the cars are cheaper on weekdays (our Matrix was $8 for the hour, or $4 with our "discount" — hooray for customer service!). It was definitely fun to go cruising, though with hourly rates we still won't be road-trippers. At least we still have none of the responsibility or debts that come with being steady drivers. Can't wait 'til our next cruising date.


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