Wheels Without Hassle

Car Sharing - Or how to save money, the planet and nerves

Daniela Mohr doesn’t own a car, and since she launched her own events management business a year ago, this has started to be a problem. The solution? Car sharing: a growing trend in Austria that now serves 16,000 drivers a year.

According to a recent study by the Austrian Automobile Association (Verkehrsclub Österreich – VCÖ), this number is expected to grow as high as 100,000 by the year 2010. That was before the sub-prime loan meltdown sent shockwaves through the world economy. Experts now expect the numbers could be even higher.

“Car sharing is very attractive for residents of a city,” said traffic expert of the VCÖ, DI Martin Blum. “Daily errands are done on foot, by bike or via public transport and when the occasional car is needed, car sharing is the best option.”

One of the leading car sharing rental companies in Austria is Denzel Drive, initiating the sharing idea in Vienna in 1997 under the name “Easydrive”. Founded in 1938 by Wolfgang Denzel, the company has continued to grow and currently employs over 1,000 people in Austria.

Denzel Drive is accessible and easy to use: Company promotions describe the services as “Your own car, without the hassle.”  The customer registers, obtains a sharing-card, schedules day and hours the car is needed, waits eagerly until the day arrives, wanders to one of the 200 Denzel parking lots all over Austria and drives off into the sunset.

Is it really that easy?  According to Daniela Mohr, it is.

“It’s as simple as it sounds – I sign up for a car, don’t pay for gas or for insurance but just for the time I use the car,” she said. “And one of the Denzel parking lots is around the corner from my place.” Although a fan of public transport, she has encountered situations where a car was essential – as when she needed to transport the proverbial ‘wagon load’ of event gear across town for her business Table & Mohr.

“Doing my job without a car would have been impossible!” Mohr admitted.

However, there is a catch, of sorts. Car sharing only pays off financially when the ‘sharer’ drives fewer than 12,000 km a year, which is not as much as one may think.  In July 2007, a VCÖ analysis showed that from the age of 17, the average Austrian drives more than that, some 12,900 km per year, with the Upper Austrians driving the most, the Viennese driving the least.

“It really is a good idea if you don’t need to be overly flexible,” Daniela Mohr continues.  “It’s not without a downside; if the car is returned half an hour late and another customer is waiting, a fine of €18 is due. Fair enough, but it could add up.”

Car sharers have several categories of vehicles at their disposal; the smallest at Denzel is the Smart Micro Hybrid Coupe at the lowest hourly rate of €1,50. The largest, a Transport Opel Vivaro, is available for nearly €5 per hour. The rate includes the vignette, gas and insurance.

Recent events may make this service even more important. As world markets plunge, the average person may be forced to embrace new ideas that spare their wallets while allowing them to maintain a high urban life style – which for many includes being mobile.

What about environmental issues that, as President of France Nicolas Sarkozy currently warned, must not be neglected during the financial crisis?

“People who get started with car sharing use automobiles half as much as they used to,” reported Blum, citing the study. This reduces the Co2 output – and the weight on your conscience – by as much as 1,300 kg.

For a list of providers, see here.

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