Energy in America: Car Sharing Grows in Popularity

Rebekah Kik is walking in the rain in her Denver neighborhood, looking for a red car to use for her latest baked goods delivery. But on this day, she finds a gray one instead.

Kik waves her key ring in front of the windshield, gets in and drives off. Despite possible appearances, she has not just committed a felony or momentarily forgotten what her vehicle looks like. In fact, she doesn't even own a car. Kik is car sharing.

eGo CarShare let's members use a network of energy-efficient vehicles throughout Denver and Boulder, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"I've never spent more than $120 a month," Kik says of the cost, "so no matter how much I've used it, I still haven't even grazed a car payment."

Which is part of the point of this ever-growing phenomenon.

"You can think of it as a pay-as-you-drive system for car usage," explains Karen Worminghaus, executive director of Denver-based eGo CarShare.

"People can check out the cars for a couple of hours at a time, a couple days if they want, use it for whatever they need, bring it back to the same location. Then they get billed on an hourly and mileage basis."

eGo CarShare has seen its membership double in the last year, according to the company.  And across the country the car share industry, which includes companies such as Zipcar, RelayRides and Getaround, has grown 16 percent.

Located primarily in larger cities, car sharing is a business model based on memberships that hover around $10 a month, plus usage. For those who only need to drive occasionally, they can pay a higher daily rate.

The price of gas lately, plus sluggish economic recovery, has contributed to the growth, says Worminghaus, but more, she believes it's about people committing to being greener.

"Our whole idea is to try to empower people to be able to live as car light as possible," Worminghaus says.

According to The CarSharing Association, the mission is aimed at "...decreasing personal car ownership, reducing vehicle distance traveled (and)... motivating residents to walk, cycle and take buses and trains."

Zach Owens has no interest in owning a car.

"I think it's too big a commitment for me both financially," Owens explains, "and in terms of all the stress that comes with owning a vehicle. It’s nice that eGo cars are there for me when I need them."

Owens says he prefers to take the bus to work or ride his bike to his downtown office building, and only car shares when he has a meeting far away.

The system has roaming benefits as well. For instance, if a Denver area member flies to San Francisco, their membership goes with them, allowing access to car shares from eGo CarShare partners in that city.