Slate has a nice story about Zipcar, a car-sharing company that has taken off like a rocket here in Washington. Within easy walking distance from our office, I can find 20 or 25 Zipcars ranging from a Mini to a Honda Element to a Toyota pickup. Cost is less than $10/hour, gas and insurance included, and you can reserve on on the web in less than 5 minutes. I love it.
This is potentially a game changing company. Given how well it works and the modest cost, it is hard to rationalize buying a new car in the city. If this leads fewer people to buy cars, it not only saves money but also reduces congestion and pollution.
The article contrasts Zipcar, a socially oriented for-profit company, with an organization in San Francisco called City CarShare. CarShare claims that it is better than Zipcar because "it is a non-profit." This is a non-sequitur. What matters is how many people the service reaches.
At last count, CarShare was only in San Francisco. ZipCar is in about ten cities and expanding fast. Spurred on by competition with FlexCar, another socially oriented for-profit company, Zipcar has been focusing like crazy on cost, scaleability, convenience, and style.