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Save money through car sharing

While car sharing came to Canada about 15 years ago, the practice has grown exponentially in recent years. For example, The Toronto-based AutoShare has gone from around 6,000 cross-Canada members five years ago to more than 60,000 members today, says Kevin McLaughlin, president of the company.

Aside from getting vehicles off the road and reducing their environmental impact, car sharing can save you time and money. You get the benefits of having access to a vehicle without many of the incumbent hassles.

The process
After being approved for a car-sharing membership, a process that may include verification that you are a safe driver, have a license and are of age, you gain immediate access to a fleet of vehicles parked strategically around your community. Booking is usually done online or by phone and allows you to specify the type of vehicle, desired pickup spot and duration of use.

"The system guides them through the process and indicates where to find the car. They can then walk up to the car and, through their security pass, get into the car and head off on their trip," McLaughlin says.

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After your time is up, you simply return the car to where you found it.

Mitchell Lewis, a Toronto-based business manager working in information technology and a former Zipcar (another car-sharing club) member, found car sharing to be easy to use. "(Zipcar's) website and booking process is simple, and the combination of their Zipcards and gas cards meant no receipts or any followup or checkout processes once I was done with the car. I would simply park it where I found it."

The fees
Costs for membership in a car-sharing club tend to include an upfront membership fee plus an hourly fee to use the vehicles. Hourly fees usually cover fuel, insurance, maintenance and cleaning.

For example, individual memberships with AutoShare are $100, and hourly fees range from $5 to $12 depending on your type of membership (occasional versus frequent-user plans), the time of day (rates are often less expensive during off-peak hours) and whether distance is included or not. Zipcar includes 200 free kilometres in the hourly fees that start at $10.13, while the Victoria Car Share Co-op charges per kilometre -- 42 cents for the first 40 kilometres and 25 cents thereafter -- but has a lower hourly rate of $2.82.

Victoria Car Share Co-op's Katherine Muncaster and her fiance, Tom, spend about $75 a month on car sharing depending on their usage.

"In the winter, Tom uses it once a week (or less when carpooling) to get to hockey practice. We use it occasionally when we have appointments that are not easy biking distance. When we have folks visiting from out of town, sometimes we'll get a car to take them around town. If we're going to a party at night and don't want to bike or bus, we will take a car."

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-- Posted: Aug. 10, 2009
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