Buy vs. Rent vs. Subscribe

Cadie Thomson writes about a future in which fewer people own cars (note the headline overstates this a bit):

Industry experts predict car ownership will dramatically decline as cars become more automated. The notion being that people will instead take self-driving taxis hailed via app to get from point A to point B instead of owning their own car.

This is a scenario with which I am familiar, as Kristina and I spent about 18 months as a one-car household. Those 18 months can be broken up into 12 months of relative ease and 6 months of struggle.

The easy part was the first twelve months, when Kristina took public transportation to work in San Francisco. That meant our car was left to me five days a week. On weekends we needed to share, which sometimes got complicated but was mostly fine. Note that with a pair of kids that could have been a lot messier.

Even with just the two of us, though, things got frustrating when Kristina switched jobs and needed the car to commute four days per week. Then it was me who was left car-less. Most days I didn’t need a car (home office), but on days when I had meetings or errands that couldn’t be pushed, I was forced into a combination of Uber, Enterprise, ZipCar, biking, and public transportation.

Here’s the thing — even after paying for those alternatives, we probably saved money only having one car. But it was a huge pain.

Every time I needed to go somewhere, I did the mental calculations of how much each option would cost, how much time it would take, would I need a car again later, and so on.

Those calculations are the worst part about renting. Much better to subscribe to an all-you-can-ride service where the marginal cost of a ride is $0.

Even the subscription service could be a pain, though. Hailing an Uber is so much better than hailing a cab, but it’s still less convenient than walking out to the driveway and getting in the car.

Maybe that convenience cost flips for urbanites, though. For them maybe it’s easier to walk out onto the street and wait for an Uber, rather than to get into the parking garage and navigate out.

In sum, renting seems like too much of a pain to me, on an individual level, at least.

Subscription services seem promising, if the network is dense enough and the trade-offs come out right.

But there is a huge convenience factor to having a car in the driveway, ready to go whenever I need it.


Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on October 30, 2015.

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