The Vrtucar learning curve

This post has been translated into Italian and posted on the Italian transportation blog The links for the translated version of  my article are here: here:

Tired of always hoofing it to the grocery store and paying too much for rentals (not to mention the hassle of lining up at the agency), we recently decided to join Vrtucar. It’s a car-sharing organization here in Ottawa, giving members access to an ever-expanding fleet of vehicles to suit our needs.

Am I glad we’ve joined? Absolutely. Have their been problems? Of course! So here I am to outline the Vrtucar benefits and learning curve as I see them. If you have a car sharing program in your city, chances are many of these points will apply to your program too.

The Nitty Gritty

Basically, you pay four ways. There’s a $500 deposit up front when you open your account, which isn’t exactly a fee, but you need to have it in your cash flow. (I justified this by figuring whenever/if we DO buy a vehicle, here’s $500 we can put towards it without having to save it up separately).

Then you pay a monthly fee, which is lower or higher depending on your usage. We pay $10 per month, which seems pretty decent to me.

Then you pay two fees for your use: hourly and per kilometer. The hourly rate is $3.20 per, and the per kilometer rate depends on your monthly rate (lower monthly = higher kilometer fee; higher monthly = lower kilometer fee).

You don’t pay gas, you don’t pay insurance, and you don’t pay for upkeep. It’s not free, but it is much cheaper and more flexible than either owning or cabbing everywhere.

You also don’t line up at an agency counter every time you need to get a car. You simply book online, even as late as a minute beforehand, and go get your car. It’s easy peasy.

The Benefits

Living downtown as we do, we can manage pretty well without a car for our day-to-day existence. But sometimes we want to do something special, and not all of our special destinations are bus or pedestrian friendly. That is where Vrtucar comes in. It is expanding our world, allowing us to do more interesting and varied things, especially when we have a chance to go as a family.

It’s also handy for certain kinds of shopping. Visiting a suburban specialty shop, for example, or doing a Costco run. Some stores aren’t bus friendly, and sometimes I don’t want to lug big items around by stroller.

And the fact that you do have to pay to use the car means that it doesn’t really encourage this kind of shopping the way that owning a car might. It isn’t like, “Hey, we’ve got wheels, let’s go to Ikea,” the way that I think every time I have a rental car and a few extra hours.

Seeing as the kilometers aren’t unlimited, it also doesn’t encourage the kind of errand-loading that I tend to do when I have a rental. Yes, that can be efficient, but it can also lead to an entire day filled with driving around from one place to another, an activity that leaves me feeling drained and grumpy.

The Learning Curve

It’s taken me a couple of months to figure out the system. Here are my major learnings:

– book way more time than you think you need. That way you won’t end up needing to make awkward exits or phoning the office in a panic while racing down the 417. Trust me on this one. I’ve taken to booking about 2 hours more than I think will be enough, and I haven’t ever felt like I have way too much time. The hourly fee is small compared to the anxiety of running late, or having to pay a late fee (could be $25).

– keep the outing focused. I’ve found I can do one, or at most two things with a car. The less I plan for the more relaxed the outing, the more enjoyable, and the less likely to incur the late fees mentioned above.

– Google maps is your friend. As I don’t often drive around the city, I don’t always know where things are. Sometimes I think I know, but when I try to get there, I find myself circling mysterious highways wasting kilometers and time. I’ve found mapping to be pretty essential when I’m going somewhere new.

– Shop by phone first. Make sure your destination has what you’re looking for before you set out the door.

– if bringing a guest, be it adult or child, add more time, and stay even more focused. An extra person can add extra fun, conversation, and a feeling of helping someone out, especially if that someone also doesn’t own a car. But it is even more essential to reduce the tasks and make sure you have enough time to do it in.

There you have it. A Vrtucar user guide. If you belong to a car sharing organization, do you have any other tips to add? I’d love to hear your wisdom!

13 thoughts on “The Vrtucar learning curve

    1. Yes! I’ve used this too, though it doesn’t always work well, especially when your destination is a small shop in a suburban strip mall, on a street where there are a bunch of strip malls, and hard-to-see street numbers! I think I spent more time on Google street view with that one than I did actually finding the bricks-and-mortar store. But otherwise, it works great!

  1. Hi,
    on my english / italian website I also cover transportation issues, especially the problems caused by excessive reliance on private cars (as an example, see the post I linked below).

    Car sharing is still almost unknown in Italy. First hand reports with lots of practical advice like this post of yours would be very helpful to convince Italians (who often don’t know English well enough to read the original content) to at least evaluate car sharing.

    I am writing to ask permission to publish on my blog an italian translation of this post. Is it OK?


      1. You’re welcome! I’ve already started to work on it. I’ll probably split it in two posts. One for the first part and one for the “learning curve”. The reason is that the learning curve is by far the biggest problem as far as I’m concerned, that is in the Italian context, so it deserves the biggest possible exposure. I want to give my fellow citizens the shortest possible report on that specific issue without getting too distracted on details, that is the actual amounts of each cost factor.

        Because I haven’t made a complete comparison yet, but I have the feeling that, while the total cost may be the same or slightly different on the same ride, the uses may be quite different and the contributions from each factor quite different: e.g. we have lots of narrow roads with very variable traffic, different city structures… so time, gas and kilometers combine differently.

        Speaking of costs, is the 500 upfront fee money that you pay once when you start and always stays in Vrtucar account, or is it something you have to pay every time and take back every time you bring the car back to their offices?


  2. The $500 is handled at the beginning when you open your account. When/if you choose to close the account, you get the $500 back.

    The article you’re writing sounds great! I wish I could read Italian 🙂

    1. Thanks for the explanation. Actually, what’s great in this case is YOUR article, I just translated it. Here you go for the italian posts:

      As I anticipated, I split this post of yours in two parts. The second URL corresponds to the “the learning curve” part of your post. The reason for the split is that I thought the practical tips should go in a separate page so I and my readers can discuss if/how they should be customized for Italy, whose urban structure is different from Canada. The first part of your post, instead, is always valid and much more general in my opinion, regardless of if/how your suggestions apply “as-is” to Italy: that’s why I put it on its own page.

      Keep up the good work!

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