Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carless In Portland

I'll admit it: I'm a city girl. The years I've spent owning a car in my life are far less than the years I've spent not having a car. That's as Martha Stewart would say, "A Good Thing." When I moved to Portland, Matt had a car - a Subaru (one of the most popular automotive brands in Portland) - it's the same car he had when I met him years before. That's what I would use to get around town. It was nice having a car to drive. It helped me get the lay of the land. Some days I would just drive around random neighborhoods. More often than not I would get lost. I like getting lost. Next time I found myself in that location, I'd know exactly where I was.

As I got a better idea of how the city was laid out I began to figure out routes I liked best and the order of the streets. I learned that Burnside split South from North and the Willamette river split the town East and West. While the city isn't exactly a grid (like the streets above Houston in New York) it's pretty close. Some streets are even laid out in alphabetical order. Having a car to drive during that acclimation period was crucial and oh so helpful.

The car was getting old as cars do. Problems started occurring with the car and it turns out I didn't actually drive it all that much and neither did Matt. It made sense to sell it and let someone else have great adventures in it.

Around this same time a new service started in Portland. Maybe you've heard of it - Car2Go. Now, we already have ZipCar here in Portland. It's a service I used in New York - about once every other month friends and I would get a car and get out of the city to run errands or just go on an adventure. It's fairly easy to use, you reserve a car (there are a plethora of models) and then pick it up at it's parking spot and return it there when you get back. You pay by the hour and gas and insurance are all included in the price. Pretty simple.

Car2Go is a bit different. The entire fleet is made up of smart cars. It works similar to ZipCar in that you have a card that you use to unlock the car and you can reserve cars. The big difference is that you can get a car anywhere and you don't need to return it to the place you picked it up. The service also includes gas and insurance. Instead of paying by the hour you pay by the minute. It's all about short trips and getting you from one place to another. There is even a Car2Go mobile app that can be used to find and reserve cars nearby. The app has its moments, but overall it gets the job done.

I quite like Car2Go, but then again I'm rarely in a hurry and don't mind walking to find cars. They aren't always around. For example, on a weekday during work hours it's pretty easy to find a car downtown, and quite difficult to find a car on the east side. That's just what happens. The cars are where the people leave them. One of my favorite uses is to drive a Car2Go to meet friends for dinner and then take a cab back home after.

It's actually less expensive than owning a car. Then again, I don't use a car every day. Between the two car services and the bus service in Portland getting around without a car isn't too difficult. I must say it really does help that there's no particular rush to be anywhere. That sense of urgency just isn't as immediate as say in a place like New York. Honestly, even there you can get away with being late to some things. That said; Portland may not have as dense a layout as New York, but both cities are quite doable without a car and I think that speaks to a certain city-centric lifestyle.

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