Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why car-sharing services rule, and why taxing them at 20% is lame.

Zipcar: Main site.

Since I moved to Pioneer Square in Seattle, I knew that trying to own a car would be stupid. I can walk to nearly everything I need, which is great exercise, and I can ride the bus to work. 90% of the time I do not need a car.

However, I do have friends in South King County. I do have situations where I need to reach several transit-poor locations in succession. Or maybe I want to group a bunch of errands together and run them all over town. So what do I do without a car?

Car-sharing is the answer, and without it, living in city would be a lot less practical. Zipcar is the dominant provider of this service. You simply reserve a car online when you need it and pick it up, using it for any interval the car is available, from one hour to four days. You then return it to the same spot at the end of your reservation. There are a few rules you need to follow, but once you get used to them, it becomes second nature.

Zipcar provides many benefits both to users and non-users. Here are the benefits to users:

* You get a new or close-to-new car without a car payment. This means you're unlikely to suffer a breakdown.
* You can drive a wide variety of cars tailor-made to your purpose. Want to just run some errands? Get a Prius. Want to carpool to a party? Get a minivan. Need to run to IKEA? Get a pickup. Want to impress a client or date? Get a BMW. Want a pleasure drive? Get a MINI Cooper. Etc, etc.
* For a small damage waiver, you don't have to worry about damage or insurance. Though it's smart to carry a non-car-owner's liability and uninsured motorist policy anyway (inexpensive), you're covered for minor insults via Zipcar's master policy.
* Gas is included in your rental fee, so you know how much you're paying for driving at all times. It becomes a known, budgetable item. The only surprise fees you may encounter is if you break a rule, like not returning on time or forgetting to leave 1/4 tank in the car, and such fees are clearly enumerated.
* If you live in city, Zipcars are now everywhere. Sometimes it's hard to find one on a nice Saturday afternoon, but I have NEVER been unable to find a car within a mile of my house (and I don't mind walknig a mile). The convenience is compelling.
* Unless you have young children, not having a car enables you to afford to live in areas previously considered out of reach financially.

I drive Zipcar a lot and I typically pay around $500/month. $100 of this would pay for gas anyway, so imagine trying to buy/insure/pay taxes on/park NEW cars for $400/month. You just can't do it. And if you don't have to go all the obscure places I do, you can probably get by on much less.

Here are the benefits for everyone else:

* Downtown apartment/condo vacancy rates are reaching sky-high levels, and one of the things that helps reverse this is car-sharing. People not having to need cars all the time makes living downtown more attractive, especially for singles.
* Increased density makes things better for local economies...people walking by a shop are FAR more likely to stop in on a whim and spend money than people driving by, and the money saved by not having a car allows people to spend it.
* Massively reduced environmental impact. One car now serves an average of 10-15 people or more. Rather than each of us buying a car that sits unused in a lot somewhere, we each pool together and use ONE car, together.
* However, it doesn't measurably hurt car companies. Zipcar steadily acquires new cars in fleets from both manufacturers and other places, which is cheaper for automakers to deal with, and helps keep people employed. Further, it's better to sell 1/15th of a car to someone every few years than it is to not sell new cars to city dwellers at ALL.
* Having to reserve a car makes you THINK about whether you need a car. This helps you rearrange your life to use cars as little as possible, and walk or bike more. This takes cars off of freeways and out of parking lots, freeing up more space for other people.
* Car-sharing encourages people to live closer to city centers, reducing commute times, increasing leisure time, and clearing the freeways for people who want/need to live farther out.

It's compelling: Car-sharing is one step towards a more sustainable culture.

So, my only complaint about all this is the following: After all this, why do Zipcar users get saddled with up to 20% in taxes? Not only do we have to pay full "use taxes" (equivalent to sales taxes), but we are often hit with rental car taxes as well.

WHY? We still pay taxes on gas, and Zipcar pays taxes on buying the cars and registering them. Zipcar MIGHT even be paying business & occupation taxes on rental fees. Why, then, do we have to pay additional taxes when we are doing our communities a huge favor by abandoning cars and living a more sustainable lifestyle? This is INSANE.

I had a politician argue with me that asking for tax relief on car sharing in a time of fiscal crisis is not good politically, but really, how much is Washington State collecting from Zipcar? I don't think they're going to miss the money. But 20% might make the difference between someone being able to afford car sharing or not!

Thus, today, I'm starting the Twitter tag #NoTaxesOnCarSharing to see if we can start a social movement against this unfair practice by government.

Please help by spreading the word.

1 comment:

Dusty,Hells most vocal Bitch said...

Holy Fuckamoly..20% tax? WTF? When I lived in Boston I sold my car and I loved not having it. Would rent one when I wanted to go out of town...but that was in the 80's. I love this Zipcar thingy. ;)