Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zipcar - Low Car Diet

Today is Day 1 of the Low Car Diet for Jeff and me! We both applied, and were accepted to take part in this challenge, hosted by Zipcar. The idea is to give up your car for 30 days, and rely only on walking, public transport, and (only when necessary) drive with zipcar.

Before we heard about the Low Car Diet, Jeff and I were debating getting rid of the car altogether. As some people know, we keep our (Jeff's) car parked out at the University of Maryland, where parking costs are lower. That makes using the car a lot more of a hassle, since we have to get it (and/or ourselves) in and out of the city. Add the fact that we don't quite trust the car to make it long distances without breaking down and that it has no airconditioning. Keep in mind that we live and work in downtown DC, with plenty of subway stops, buses, and bikes to get around. So with that reasoning, we decided that it was technically possible to not own a car.

But, being MIT nerds (and in Jeff's case, an economist), Jeff and I wanted to see how it looked in numbers. Here were our basic calculations (all numbers are approximate):

Our Driving Habits:
Weekend Trips: 6 (1 every other month) - These are the driving trips to visit friends and family in New York, go camping, or other similar things
Weekday Trips (4 hours): 24 (2 per month) - Trips like visiting Jeff's friends and family in Baltimore, or heading to a friend's house that's not on the metro
Weekend Trips (4 hours): 24 (2 per month) - Similar to weekday trips - just getting out of the city for an afternoon
*To get to and from work and school we almost always walk, bike, or metro, and this wouldn't change once we have zip car, so those trips aren't included.

Annual Costs of Owning a Car in DC:
Insurance- $800 per person
Gas - $1000
Repairs - $0-$1000+ (You never know when it's going to break down...)
Parking - $200 @ UMD (In the city it's closer to $2400!)
DC Parking Meters/Tickets - $400 (Even when we've tried to follow the rules and move the car every two hours, we've still ended up with tickets... 7 since January!)
Total - $3700 per year

Annual Costs of Transporation if We Don't Own a Car:
Zipcar - $ 2500 - (We'd use this to substitute for most of the trips described above.)
Taxi - $100 (This would take the place of some of the trips to pick people up at the airport, etc.)
Metro - $50 (We already use this quite a bit, and might use it a bit more often if we didn't have a car - trips to Target, for example, where we could take the bikes or metro but in the past gave in and used the car)
Bikes - $0 (The DC Smartbikes are a $40 flat fee to join, and we're already members, so no added cost there!)
Total - $2650

So, by the numbers, it looks like it'd be great!

Throw in these additional benefits:
1. Less driving is better for the environment
2. Zipcars will be much more reliable/newer/nicer cars (and have air conditioning)
3. Walking and biking more will be healthier - daily exercise!
4. By walking and biking, we end up seeing more of the city

...and it seems to be a pretty good decision. The Low Car Diet is the perfect chance to give it a trial run and see how it works in practice. So, for the next 30 days, in addition to all the random things I usually blog about, I'll also be blogging about Jeff's and my public transport experiences from day to day!

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