Originally published on Medium in January of 2019

The end of the year found me in Tahoe with my brother and a friend. We decided to head up there for a little snowboarding adventure. Turns out the adventure started before we even left the East Bay. (I had been in Cali for the holidays visiting with family.) This is not an advertisement for the car-sharing service, albeit the above picture would make for a great ad campaign!

We had planned to rent a car by the traditional means i.e. a rental car company. My brother had reserved a car for us with Enterprise. Except of course there was a problem. It seems like there is always a problem with car rental companies. He doesn’t have a credit card only a credit debit card. Nor did he have any of the other required items you need to rent a car from Enterprise.

By the time he returned to the house, to get his friend who did have a credit card, there were no cars left to rent. In a flash of inspiration, his friend suggested we pick a GIG car up off the street. He had the GIG app and had used the car service before. Other friends have used similar car share apps like Car2Go.

For the uninitiated, it’s simple. You use an app to see if there are available cars in your area. If there is an available car nearby you can take it. Anywhere! Of course, you have to sign up for the app which you can do with a form of payment and a driver’s license. A debit card will work with this app. You don’t need a credit card.

To be honest we weren’t sure we could take the car to Tahoe. It’s about a 3-hour drive from the East Bay. We were occasionally worried, the app might lock us out of the car. It didn’t. Our friend did get several emails asking whether or not he was still using the car over the two and a half days we were in Tahoe. We made it there and back. AND because the car is a Toyota Prius, the gas mileage was incredible.

The only downside is that it requires an app which means it requires a smartphone. This isn’t something you can do via a website. Also, the app (at least for GIG Car) is used to unlock the vehicle. This is a challenge when one person might want to grab their extra socks from the car.

Companies like GIG car or Car2Go are exposing the problems around rental car companies. Getting access to a car can be prohibitive for all kinds of reasons. A person may have the funds to rent a car but not have the other required documents or payment methods. Having the required forms of payment can be one of the biggest obstacles to renting a car.

Many people choose not to have credit cards or are not able to have them. Others choose not to have a car at all. But in many parts of California, most of Ohio or more suburban areas just about anywhere, a car can be a necessity. Or at least necessary for going farther afield. Renting a car for a trip lasting a day or more can be a challenge even when a person or a group of people have the immediate funds to do so.

A company that can make access to needed transportation easier for people is going to find a market. As long as there is a market to be found. Car2Go actually suspended operations in Toronto. The city has pretty good public transportation despite what Torontonians might say. Bike lanes are all over the city. They also have a light rail system that gets you pretty far outside the city. The market for carsharing is smaller.

This isn’t the case in the bay area. I noticed right away many GIG cars around the East Bay. People use them. Access to a car makes life a lot easier in California. The public transportation just isn’t as good. There are plenty of US cities where public transportation is abysmal at best. A need is being filled.

Lyft and Uber have taken off in cities with and without decent public transportation. In some places, they filled a huge need. A friend who drives for Lyft in Cleveland says many of his customers are from lower-income neighbors. They are people who don’t have regular access to a car or decent public transportation.

In other places, these services have taken off because they give you a guaranteed ride. I will never forget the freezing cold New Year’s Eve in NYC when I couldn’t get a cab. A cab driver refused to take me from Chinatown to my apartment in Astoria. An Uber or Lyft ride, had it existed at the time, would have been able to give me the ride. It didn’t exist. Luckily I was able to wait for a very long time for a subway train. NYC is one of the few cities that does have 24-hour subways. It was freezing but I got home.

Some say access to transportation is a rights issue. I have to say I agree. Transportation can cut across civil rights, women’s rights, human rights. The ability to get places is a basic human desire, dare I say, a need. We are mobile creatures whether it is to work or play, we want to move places, to explore. One way to control people is by limiting where they can go. This is done by limiting access to transportation.

Of course, being able to go snowboarding or not is nowhere near as serious an issue as those faced by people trying to get to work. Having trouble being able to get transportation for pleasure should give us pause. We can see it as a sign of a much deeper issue. And yes, there are times in my life when not having a car, did affect my work situation or influence what type of job I might pursue.

I think back to my days in Japan, (Yes, I lived in Japan many years ago) where I first learned to snowboard. We got to the slopes via bus or shinkansen aka highspeed rail. Of the many times, I went snowboarding, we drove in a car to go to the ski slopes once. When it came to work, I could ride my bicycle or take a train, subway, or bus depending on where I was going. One of the reasons I loved Japan was that I could go so far on my own. I didn’t need a vehicle I didn’t have. There was a sense of freedom. It is something that we should all have.

Carsharing might just be able to disrupt the rental car market and the transportation industry. I’m a fan of anything that makes it easier, more seamless, for people to get from one place or another. These companies aren’t without their issues. Pay is often low for Lyft and Uber drivers. Carsharing could put taxi drivers out of business altogether. It’s not particularly cheap. The GIG Car cost about what a rental car would have cost us. This means that there are still people that won’t be able to access this type of service. That’s a problem. But it’s a start. It’s far easier than renting a car from a rental car company.

The real problem is the giant holes when it comes to accessible transportation. From bicycles to taxis to snowboards, all modes of transportation have their value. They could all work together. On those days when a traditional rental company makes it impossible, there may just be a carshare in your future.