Who’s Zoomin’ Who – The French Are Sharing Cars Between Neighbors

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Robin Chase is CEO of Buzzcar.com in France.

Robin Chase is cofounder and CEO of Buzzcar.com in France.

We at Krrb are really interested in the idea of “using the Internet to get off the Internet” so when we heard that, in France, people are using the Internet to facilitate car sharing with their neighbors (and make money while doing it), our ears perked and our sniffers went into high gear.

Meet Robin Chase, one of the people driving this trend (pun intended). For the last 10 or so years, she has successfully turned the concept of car-sharing into a reality, resulting in fewer cars and less carbon. In 2000, Robin founded Zipcar, now the world’s largest car-sharing business, with over half a million people sharing 8000 cars (primarily in North America) and in 2008, she founded GoLoco, a revolutionary ride-sharing company that allows you to share trips with your friends – and friends of friends.

Robin was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009. She has served on the World Economic Forum Future of Transportation Council and currently is on the Board of the World Resources Institute, the US Secretary of Commerce’s National Advisory Committee for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and the US Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee.

We caught up with this transportation geek, green-conscious problem-solver and remarkable innovator to see what brings her to France, what’s the personal motivation behind all this car-sharing madness and most importantly, what’s the most cherished thrifted, secondhand, vintage, upcycled object she possesses?

Here’s the skinny!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m the 5th of 6th children. We used to joke about my mom’s frugality and that she was always buying us used things. Now, we joke that being “cheap” is now seen as being “sustainable.” And I love reducing my planetary footprint.

Where are you from and where do you currently live?

I grew up in the Middle East, so that is where I used to say I was from. Then I spent 25 years in Boston, so that is where I am from. We moved to Paris last fall, so this is where I’m now from.

What is the most awesome thing in or about your neighborhood?

I love, love, love my neighborhood. I can get hot fresh bread from four different bakeries: French, Indian, Greek and Turkish.

Tell us about your day job…

I’m CEO of Buzzcar.com. Buzzcar is a lot like Krrb in fact. People who own cars, and use them rarely (well, that is everyone – cars are in use only 5% of the time) can rent them out to their friends and neighbors who would like to use them.

Buzzcar

Buzzcar makes the reservations, provides car insurance, collects the payment, and asks for ratings. Our goal is to make it simple, safe, and easy to rent out your car for an hour or a day, and simple, safe, and easy to rent someone else’s car for an hour or a day.

Car sharing, cool! What is it and what are the benefits?

Ha! There are only benefits. Car owners get money (about 70% of listed price). Car drivers get to choose the car that fits their exact trip (do you need a Smart or a 4×4?) and pay only for the time they use it. Everyone gets to feel pride in doing a very good thing for their neighborhood (fewer cars needed to make people car-satisfied), and for the planet (fewer emissions because people drive much less when they pay by the hour).

How does it work?

Go to Buzzcar.com or download the Buzzcar app and become a member of our community (free now, but shortly 20€ a year). You use the iPhone app to find and reserve cars near you. It’ll take less than 5 minutes to get your car onto the Buzzcar network map and start sharing it. Before you can actually drive or rent a car, we do need photos of your driver’s license, identity card, and carte grise.

Why did you start Buzzcar?

The time is right. Cars are expensive and useful, yet most of us don’t need one all the time. We have great tools (the internet! smartphones!) to make sharing really fast and easy. The culture has changed enough that people know that the coolest thing to do is to share what you have rather than own it by yourself. It means you are financially smart and on the cutting-edge of the future of mobility. Having access to just one car that sits around all day and costs you a lot of money is just so passé.

Why start it in France? Are you bringing it back to Boston one day?

France has Velib (20,000 shared bikes) and will soon have AutoLib (4000 one-day electric cars). There is a national conversation about what communities need to get around, the costs, and the benefits. Buzzcar will be an important part of the conversation and the solution.

Boston? Let’s make France a success first.

Why cars? Zipcar then GoLoco then Buzzcar…

I love cities, and I love living in them, but cars and cities don’t mix well. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate cars. There are lots of times when a car is absolutely the right solution (five of us spent a weekend traveling through Brittany, and the other day I had to pick up a used bunkbed and get it home). Car sharing is a way to have car mobility while dramatically reducing all its painful parts (cost, parking, emissions).

And, it needs to be said, that personal cars contribute to 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions. When we drive a shared car, we drive about 80% less. If everyone shared (and paid for shared cars), we would dramatically reduce that percentage – quickly, cheaply, and happily. We don’t have to wait for electric cars or new subways to be built, and we don’t have to twist people’s arms to participate. People want to do it; they love the service; it is in their own financial best interests.

Sharing seems to be a theme. As a kid, did you share with other kids? Stories please!

Remember how I said I was the 5th of 6 kids? Sharing was not fun, and felt more like a punishment. It meant that you had to wait your turn and couldn’t get what you wanted. But I’m a big kid now. Sharing means I can get the car I want, in the location I want, at a better price. Hurrah for the Internet and smart phones!

Personally speaking, why share? Is it a political statement or simply about being convivial?

OK, I’m trying to be completely honest here. I share because I love the tidiness of efficiency and a resource well used. It also totally takes the pressure off of making a wrong choice. If you share some (or buy it used), the cost is very low. I don’t know about you, but I hate opening the closet and seeing the expensive jacket that I bought and wore only one time. It makes me mad at myself, and I’m totally unable to do anything with it – no way is it going into a trashcan and then a landfill. But, when I buy something used (or a car for a few hours) and I don’t like it, so what? Not a big problem, I hurt neither my budget nor the planet. And then, when I put that unworn jacket up for sale on Krrb, my guilt is totally eliminated. Someone else can make good use of it, and the cost of my bad financial decision is minimized. And now, someone else can enjoy it.

Thanks Robin for plugging Krrb, we like your thinking and 100% agree ;)

Have you every taken home an object you found in the street or dumpster?

So many times I can’t count. And I don’t have a favorite because I have found so many many things that I love from the trash.

What is your most cherished thrifted, secondhand, vintage, upcycled object you possess? What’s the story behind it?

OK, so you are forcing me to think hard. I love textiles, so of course I have bought old rugs, and old embroidered pants, jackets, tablecloths, but I suppose that doesn’t count.

A used Jacket from Guatemala.

A used Jacket from Guatemala.

I was in Guatemala two years ago. The local farmers around Lake Atitlan wore the most incredible jackets. I decided I wanted one. We had to take a bus from the bottom of an old volcano (Panajachel near where we were staying) up to the top, the market town of Solola where I was told that they were sold. Next to the bus stop was a market of used clothes laid out in the parking lot. While we were waiting for the bus, I wandered around the piles. There was a used jacket! Only one, and I thought the arms were a bit short. The woman wanted $20 for it, which seemed like a lot for a used jacket in Guatemala.

I didn’t buy it, we caught the bus to Solola and I discovered the jacket sellers in a dark shady corner off the central square of the market. The new jackets were for sale for $65-$100! Consistently. This was the price these farmers paid. Also, the jackets were very stiff and thick. They didn’t hang nicely. I imagined “What if I don’t like it and can’t get up the nerve to wear it? That is a lot of money to spend.” So I didn’t buy one.

The next day, I went back to the used market at the foot of that mountain and bought the used one — soft, supple, perfect! I wear it all the time. I love it.

List the top 5 places you go locally to discover hidden treasures.

Krrb.com
The trash
Second-hand stores in the 4th
Porte de Clignacourt (Paris)

Final words?

You can’t go wrong when you consume things that were already bought by someone else before you. It is really the best way to go.

Thanks Robin!

 

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