March 25, 2009 at 2:03PM
by Alexandra Zissu
One of the things I love most about living in New York is being car-free. Nothing could be greener. Here is how I get to places, in order of frequency: I walk (and push a stroller) or I take subways and buses. Less than ten times a year I take a taxi. I grew up in New York so this is all I've ever known, though at various points in my pre-kid life, I rode more subways, walked less, and took more cabs. Although I did learn to drive in my late teens, and even have a license, I don't drive. I used to but as I never did it with any frequency, I was (and am) terrible. Driving terrifies me. And I all around hate it - from being behind the wheel to the gasoline that makes the cars go.
Still, being a parent, cars are convenient, even for the urban dweller. From time to time over the years we have borrowed cars from friends and family for long haul errands, carting stuff around, or even for weekend trips. Our needs never seemed to be enough to warrant joining Zipcar, an eco-tastic business model I have long admired, until parenthood.
I was so excited when I filled out Zipcar's online forms. It all felt just right. One of the first trips we took in a Zipcar, conveniently parked less than 5 blocks away, was to our organic Community Supported Agriculture farm. The new relationship was off to a great start.
But it quickly went downhill. It turns out it's literally impossible to get a car if you want to use it at any normal time (summer weekends) or holidays (forget Thanksgiving). I'm not even talking about finding a car in your neighborhood, I'm talking about not even being able to find cars in boroughs of the city I don't even live near. Crazy. I know I wasn't alone in not being able to snag these cars. I did some Internet research and found an alarming number of disgruntled Zipcar-ites. I wish I had done my research prior to joining.
So, with a heavy heart, I broke up with Zipcar. About nine months ago, after a short-lived three-month (give or take) fling. It just didn't make sense to spend money for something that was unusable. They were pretty good about letting us go and refunding our money. But the whole experience haunts me to this day. Why doesn't it work? I guess they wildly oversold memberships.
Leafing through a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine
, I was shocked that a fawning article about Zipcar, entitled Share My Ride
, made no mention of how impossible it is to actually get a Zipcar. The writer appeared to experiment during off-peak hours. But I cannot understand how he didn't run into this issue while doing his background research. I'm not alone -- the following week, the magazine published a Letter to the Editor on the topic.
Car sharing is a beyond excellent idea for urban dwellers, and not just organic moms. Here's hoping someone figures out how to get it right. And this means making sure the car to member ratio in any given neighborhood is in check. If you don't have cars to give, you can't sell memberships. Period.
In the meantime, I have to figure out how I'm going to get out of the city from time to time this summer. A concrete jungle has its advantages, but every childhood deserves grass and trees.