Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zipcar in the News

I saw in the news today that a 20-yr. old local man was arrested because he had been stealing a few Zipcars and going for joyrides with his friends to the mall. :( Somehow, he had manipulated the vehicles' electrical system. I think that Zipcars have a GPS system, which is good for finding the cars, if stolen. He is also a suspect in other similar car thefts. That guy is paying a high price for his short-lived fun now...

My blog has been quiet lately - I haven't had any reason to need a Zipcar since mid-February...but I have been thinking a lot about my car-free life, since it's been almost 6 months since I became car-free. Gas prices continue to climb - it's now $3.60/gallon. People are really feeling the pinch. They try to mainly use their car to get to and fro work, and curb any extra driving. I read in the news that a lady in Chicago was planning on buying a bicycle to make the 2 1/2 mile commute to work. Only two and a half miles??! That's hardly worth firing up the car! There have been gas thefts - they advise you not to leave your car unattended while the pump automatically is putting gas in your tank. There have been people who drive up, take the hose out of your car, and put it in their car - fill it up, and then put the hose back in your car! Can you imagine?

A lady at work asked me about who I donated my vehicle to - she has an older car that has been giving her trouble - but she doesn't just want to have it hauled away as junk...she has a sentimental attachment to the car, as a lot of us do. There are lots of organizations that you can donate your car to, and benefit different groups. She lives in Maryland, and there is a bus that can get her from her house to the subway, but it takes a long time and doesn't run often or late at night. (She is a paralegal, and works odd/late hours). So she said she can't consider it as an option. I suggested she perhaps get a folding bike to ride to the subway, and take onto the subway, but she said the route would be on a busy road and hasn't thought of alternative roads. So she's looking at buying a new car...I suggested getting a used car, to save the money, but she doesn't want any "headaches" from a used car. I think, if you do the research, you CAN get a good used car, instead of being strapped with high car payments....

A lady friend I know has an old Volvo that has been running on its feeble legs - she hasn't had the money to fix/maintain it. It's now at the nearby gas station with an estimated high repair bill. She's a good candidate for a Zipcar... She lives right across the street from a shopping strip - that includes a lot of stores you need (grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants, etc.). She is on the bus line that can take her to the subway within minutes. She lives a couple miles from Old Town Alexandria - that has anything she'd need. I've suggested she could get a cheap used bike and bike to whatever she needs to get to...but she balks - as if biking is beneath her... when actually, it's the perfect solution for her. Perhaps its the exercise that she balks at. I don't know. I think A LOT of people could benefit from having a bicycle or being car-free...but it seems like such a RADICAL idea - they can't conceive of being without a car.

When I think of her car repair, or my co-worker's thought of getting a new car and having high car payments, it's a freeing thought that I don't have to worry about an unforeseen car repair. Granted, I have bike repairs, but it's a TON less money to fix a bike than a car. Last Spring, I took a bike repair class. I wanted to learn how to hopefully fix some of the regular maintenance items I encounter - like the drivetrain (chain, chainrings, rear cassette), replacing broken cables, replacing brake pads, to name a few. If I could learn how to do it on one bike, the skill could be hopefully transferred to fix my other bikes. Normally, in order to do a premium tune-up and replacement parts/labor, it was about $300. So, I bought a bike stand (which was an expensive item, but very helpful). I brought a couple of my bikes to the bike store to show them to the mechanic and buy the correct replacement parts, and related tools.

About a month ago, my regular commuting bike finally let me know it was time to replace the chain, chainring, and cassette. I knew this time would come, and I was sort of facing it with some apprehension - I've never done any repairs like this - could I actually do it?? I'm somewhat mechanically-inclined - but this was almost like popping the hood on your car and fiddling around in there! I have a Park Tool Bicycle Repair Handbook from the class, and could always ask questions of my bike mechanic at Spokes, or a nearby bike commuter friend who does repairs on his bike. I approached the bike repairs one at a time. Each repair had a learning element to it that will help me next time. I did bring the bike to the bike store for help in a couple of spots, but other than that, I think I saved about $140 overall.

Lastly, I will be making a bike/bus trip up to New York City at the end of May, to visit a biking friend. There is a new express bus service that started at the end of March - called Bolt Bus, that is from D.C. to NYC (https://www.boltbus.com/). If you reserve your tickets in advance, you can get it as low as $1.00 EACH WAY! (plus a small service charge - something like $.50). I booked mine in early April, and got a fare of $15 each way....still, that's WAY cheaper than a train or flight! The bus picks up at 11th & G Streets, N.W., and has a couple of drop off points in NYC. My plan is to ride my Tikit folding bike into D.C. early that morning, fold it and put it in the baggage area under the bus, and enjoy hopefully an uneventful ride up. :) The bus has electrical connections for your laptop, iPod, or DVD player - I'll just bring a book and CD player. :) This is one big reason I bought the Tikit bike - to bring it on a bus or Amtrak. Stay tuned for a trip report on this. :)