Monday, July 07, 2008

Transportation Alternatives That Make Sense

Most of us can’t afford ocean-front property, so we take vacations. Most of us can’t afford a luxury yacht, so we charter cruises instead. Most of us can’t afford to own an airplane, so we book flights with commercial airline companies. We tend to use common sense for most of our travel, but many of us drive vehicles that greatly exceed our needs. While our day-to-day needs might call for a vehicle that is capable of taking one person on a 20-mile round-trip work commute, we often end up with a much larger vehicle. We buy these larger vehicles because we sometimes need the extra capacity. We need the extra capacity to haul hardware or appliances, to take the family on a camping trip, or maybe to tow a trailer or boat. We may only need the extra capacity 1% of the time, but we end up using a vehicle that burns an excessive amount of gasoline every day. This excessive use of gasoline is not only expensive, it’s bad for the environment and a waste of natural resources that are already in short supply. Excessive use of gasoline feeds the greediness of oil companies, causing gasoline to be even more expensive for all of us.

Do you drive a gas-guzzler?
At today’s prices you could be
spending $40.00 for 400 miles
of driving, instead of $140.00
to go the same distance.

The automobile industry thought it could address the problem by making large vehicles more fuel-efficient, but had to reconsider when people stopped buying large vehicles. Consumers understand that while a fuel-efficient SUV might get 20mpg instead of 10, they are better off driving a smaller vehicle at 35mpg or more. Many of us would be better off using a gas-efficient vehicle for our daily commute, and renting a larger vehicle when extra capacity is needed. A fuel-efficient vehicle might save the owner $2000.00 or more in gasoline per year, more than enough to pay for the rental of a larger vehicle for those times when it’s needed. A hardware-store in my neighborhood has truck rentals at a cost of $20.00 for 90 minutes.

If you need to haul small loads often, frequent large vehicle rentals might not be the best strategy for you. A small utility trailer might be your best choice. Even the smallest of cars can tow a lightly-loaded trailer easily. You’ll need to install a trailer hitch, add a connector for lights, and you’ll need to license the trailer, but you’ll save in the long run.

My strategy is to avoid using the family mini-van as much as possible, but I could do better. I would much rather co-own a mini-van or truck. If several families owned a large vehicle, each of them could use it for a few days each month. The purchase cost, as well as the cost for licensing and insurance, would be much less if those costs were divided among several owners. Many of us don’t need a large vehicle for more than a few days each month anyway.

This co-ownership plan could be easily expanded to include more than one vehicle, helping to ensure that plan participants would get the type of vehicle needed, when they need it. For example; 16 families could co-own 2 vehicles. One could be a pickup truck, and one could be a mini-van. Scheduling could be done via the Internet, and all participants would have instant access to vehicle availability information. Payment plans could be tailored to meet the needs of each participant, ensuring a fair deal for each member of the group. Some two-car families could benefit from this plan by becoming one-car families.

I’ve thought about my own needs, and my ideal plan would include the use of a mini-van for about three weeks each year. This would allow me to take my family on a two-week vacation, and a couple of weekend get-a-way trips. I’ll also need a pickup truck about 21 times each year to haul building materials, garden and landscaping supplies, appliances and furniture, and corn for my stove. If everyone in the plan has equal access, each of the 16 participating families will have just over 42 days of vehicle availability each year. A potential drawback of the plan is that participants would tend to want the vehicles on weekends, and not so much during the week. This problem might be minimized by careful selection of plan participants. A retired couple might be happy to use one of the available vehicles during the week for shopping, leaving it free on the weekends for family outings. Such arrangements could be specified by plan clauses.

There are many ways a co-ownership plan could be implemented. Several families could co-own an old beat-up pickup truck for example. After purchasing an inexpensive vehicle outright, insurance and maintenance would be the only ongoing cost. This would be a dirt-cheap solution for each family involved.

Co-ownership may sound like a radical idea, and the car rental agencies are going to hate it, but it’s an idea whose time has come. The best implementation would be on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, providing quick and easy access to vehicles with little advance planning.


1 comment:

Damon said...

All good stuff SJ.

We do without owning a car altogether, and hire one about once a year. There are a couple of short-hire/shared-ownership/car-club schemes in our area that we've looked at too.

We very occasionally blag use of a friend's car for a big shop or to take bulky stuff to recycling, but pay in kind! B^>