Low-car diet: top five questions about Flexcar answered

Late last week, my family hopped on the bus to meet up with representatives from Flexcar, who planned to "orient" us on how we would soon choose biking, walking, bussing and (most importantly) using the Flexcar carshare service over our own car.

I've long admired the Flexcar vehicles from afar. They're parked in their own special spaces "reserved for carshare vehicles" with pretty iconic posts, near bus stops and with space for locking your bike. But signing up for the service seemed a Herculean task, fraught with so many questions and the most monstrous hurdle of all: a membership fee. Yikes!

A chance to use the Flexcar service for free, without any upfront investment, was a big reason why I said "yes" to the concept of the low car diet. But I was also eager to get my questions answered. We sat in a darkened room in a government building downtown. Everyone had nametags and pizza. And everyone was getting their questions answered.

It was paradise. And I'm sharing the questions (and their answers) with you:

1. Do you have to pay for gas?
No, and if you fill up the Flexcar while you're driving with the fuel card in the glove compartment, you get a credit on your account. You also get a credit if you wash the car while you're driving it.

2. What if you're late returning the car?
There's no penalty, but it's nice to alert the Flexcar peeps so they can notify the next person who's reserved it.

3. Do you have to pay for time if you pick up later, or return earlier, than your reservation?
Yep. This was instated to discourage people from over-reserving vehicles. No bonus points for excessive promptness (*sigh*).

4. Can you Flexcar one way -- that is, pick up from one spot downtown, and return to another spot in the suburbs?
No (*heavy sigh*). This was my brilliant plan to reduce the amount of time I'd use (saving it all for a fantastic toodling around to my parents' house near the Oregon coast, to the mountains for some hardcore biking, etc.). But you must return the car where you found it. This, in my opinion, is the biggest drawback of the Flexcar -- a kink in its flexible armor, if you will.

5. How do you get in the car?
This seemingly obvious detail was my first question. You get a smart card when you sign up with Flexcar, and when you've reserved the car your smart card will unlock the doors when waved in the right spot; the ignition key is inside.

[Photo Kate Mereand]

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