I recently had the pleasure of taking my first trip in a Zipcar, driving out to Western Massachusetts on an impromptu crusade to find some authentic candlepin bowling. It was marvelous. Four friends and I piled into a boxy Japanese sport utility vehicle and toted out down Interstate 90, chasing the sunset and looking for wholesome fun outside the city.
Surprisingly, the best part of the journey was the car sharing experience. For those who don’t know, Zipcar is a new model of privatized socialism with transportation, where members rent
automobiles by the hour or day so they can take little jaunts without the hassle of owning a car or paying for gas, insurance or maintenance. According to my Zipfriend, other members, known as ‘Zipsters,’ are the most considerate people in Boston. They have actual concern for the subsequent renter of ‘their’ car – they never leave trash and are terribly sorry when they are late. They understand the community and follow a very ‘Zen’ kindness of ‘you reap what you sow.’
What strikes me is how easily Zipsters have accepted the concept of shared property. When I think of Americans in automobiles, I view possessive, isolated people who are only concerned about their personal little bubble of existence speeding down the freeway. Zipcar counters this concept of property; sure it’s yours for a few hours, but once dropped off, it goes back into the pool for everyone to use. And ironically, having communal cars available to the masses reinforces the sense of independence inherent in driving. There’s freedom in our highways, and with car sharing that freedom is distributed to everyone.
Now, I see a similar freedom with urban bicycle share programs, which Boston is priming itself to receive in the next few years. Following examples set by Washington, D.C. and Paris, Boston will see stations of bikes outside T stops and at universities and museums, available to anyone who wants to cycle to his or her destination. Office workers can arrive at North Station, hop a bike and make it to work in no time and at little cost. It’ll free up transportation for the anti-car, creating mobility without congestion and promoting public health.
This will go a long way in opening all cross sections of society to bikes. Not just for hipsters on fixed gears or commuters in reflective, rain-retardant clothing, Boston should be filled with daily errand runners, elderly recreational riders and even students on rented bikes. This’ll also boost tourism, when, on sunny days, out-of-towners can bike the Freedom Trail, visit the Museum of Fine Arts and still make their dinner reservations on time. It’ll feel like a bike-friendly city, as in ‘Well, it’s a city bike, so the city must want me to use it.’
As I see it, the problem is that we are conditioned to be possessive, especially of our streets. Zipcar, which was founded in Cambridge, has taken 10 years to become this successful, so I am patient and hopeful of other innovative changes that will let us know it’s OK to share our rides.