"Not What You Own: I-GO Car Sharing"
by Mariah Craddick
"We thought it was going to be mostly 'go green', but we find it's more about saving money," says Richard Kosmacher, the Business Development Manager for I-GO Car Sharing, the city's only non-profit car sharing company.
What is "car sharing"? Exactly what it sounds like.
I-GO advertises itself as a "local, non-profit, hourly car sharing company that gives you the convenience and flexibility of having a car without the cost or hassles of owning one."
It all began back in the late nineties when a researcher from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), an affiliate or parent company of I-GO, took a trip to Europe and saw a version of this "car sharing" idea there. In the Spring of 2002, CNT started I-GO as a pilot project and tested it out for about two years. The results proved that it would be useful in a city like Chicago and has been growing ever since.
The I-GO offices are tight and cramped, being housed on one side of the CNT building in a series of tiny cubicles. The building itself promotes sustainability and efficiency, built in a way that reduces its energy costs. A small garden exists amongst the cubicles in the center, serving as a sort of barrier between I-GO and the rest of CNT.
"It was a pretty radical idea back in the late nineties," Kosmacher says, still speaking about the company's inception, "because when people think transportation, they think cars, roads, trains, buses. This is now kind of a new model."
Since its humble beginnings, I-GO has grown to 15,000 members sharing about 250 cars. These cars are spread throughout 150 parking lots in the Chicago area and nearing suburbs. Unlike its similar, for profit counterpart--Zipcar--I-GO lends its services to a wider range of customers.
"Zipcar wants to be the McDonald's of car sharing," Kosmacher says. "We serve a diverse community. Zipcar tends to concentrate the people and the cars downtown and their demographic is more homogeneous. Ours is much more diverse."
I-GO is all about the community, citing outreach as one of the most important goals of the company. Whether it's a summer street fair or a benefit fair for a company or university, I-GO is there spreading the word about the eco-friendly alternative to owning a car.
At a time when the economy seems to be tanking while gas prices are forever on the rise, car sharing has become not only environmentally beneficial--with less contribution to greenhouse gas emissions--but also beneficial to people's wallets.
"Gas goes up, and it's always going to go up," Kosmacher says matter-of-factly, "which hurts people and their wallets. But that's the more people will turn to a company like I-Go for car sharing."
Kosmacher's reasoning makes sense and I-Go's effectiveness has been proven, with reductions in driving by 119 million miles in 2009, according to a survey conducted annually by I-GO.
"There's a big shift occurring. Cars used to be how people identified who they were," Kosmacher says. "It's a move away from defining who you are by what you own as opposed to who you are by what you do. This is more about what you do than what you own."