Car Libraries for Rural Communities

We share tools on our road. It just makes sense; unless you are a professional or working on a complex project, you aren’t going to have a lot of uses for potentially expensive tools, so why not share them? If various people own various tools it spreads the cost out, and people can use what they need more or less when they need it rather than all buying the same tools for use a few days a year. This is a common practice here and in other rural neighbourhoods, which I distinguish from even more rural locations like farms where it’s not practical to tool share because your neighbours may be much more remote than mine and you’re using your tools on a regular basis.

My neighbourhood straddles a divide because it is decidedly rural, with large parcels giving way to larger ones the further you get from town, but not quite. We do have close neighbours and services are easy to access. But this is also not town, let alone the city, and thus the rules from there don’t quite apply here. For example, it doesn’t make sense to maintain an actual tool library, as seen in some cities, because there wouldn’t be enough clients. Public transit doesn’t go here because not enough people would use it.

And I was thinking about this in the context of cars recently because I very rarely use mine. I go into town maybe two days a week, sometimes more when I’m feeling especially social. I could easily go into town with someone else on my road or take one of their cars—but we don’t do that. There is no car sharing here, only tool sharing, and it struck me that this is a kind of interesting divide.

In urban areas, they have coordinated car share services, which make excellent sense for city people who only need to drive occasionally, don’t want to deal with parking, and do like having access to a car when it’s needed. For varying fees they can access cars for any period from a few hours to a few days to meet their needs, and they can return them to a drop off station. There are also programs that allow people to rent out their own cars, creating another form of car sharing to facilitate use of vehicles that would otherwise be sitting idle for extended periods.

It makes me wonder when this will spread here, because it would be a great opportunity. Car ownership is one of the highest and least negotiable expenses of rural living, because if you live in a rural community, you have to have a car. While you can attempt to get by with bicycles and public transit and hitching and other stopgap measures, it’s extremely difficult. If you want any kind of stable job or hope of a social life, you really do need to maintain a car. It’s just how it works because of the distance and distribution of rural areas, which makes it functionally impractical to live without a car.

Cars are expensive. Even buying a junker that will be a pain in the ass to maintain later usually costs at least a few thousand dollars, and of course more over the life of the car as you’re constantly fixing it. If you want to be street legal, you also need to register your car, which can add another hundred dollars or more to the cost of driving, and you need to maintain car insurance. Even the most minimal plans get costly, particularly if you are a young driver or have any kind of record. You can spend several thousand dollars a year owning a car, insuring it, registering it, fueling it, and handling basic maintenance like oil changes.

That’s before more long-term maintenance like brake services, replacing tires, and handling other things as wear and tear goes on. And things will start to break, necessitating repair or replacement as well as tough decisions about what you can afford. Cars in rural areas can quickly become moneypits, but you’re trapped, because you don’t have the option of getting rid of your car. Not if you work an early shift or if you are in a remote location, because your car is your lifeline, and you can’t afford to give it up. And no, you can’t ‘just move’ to a walkable location, because there may not be any ‘walkable’ locations in your community, or the rents may be too high.

A car share isn’t for everyone, of course, but it could be something for rural communities, and the best way to organise it, I suspect, would be shared rental membership between community members. Rather than maintaining a separately-owned car for people to use, members of a community could rent out their own cars if they were willing. Working with a company that handles this kind of thing, they could manage the liability and contracts to allow their neighbours to use their cars in a low-risk way; while I’ve been told I can borrow trucks occasionally, for example, I always have worries about what will happen if I get into an accident, and I like the option of having more of a business relationship with the vehicle owner, one that transcends our relationship as friends and neighbours.

Car shares have the potential of breaking down a serious barrier for rural residents by allowing them to drive safe, well-maintained vehicles with proper insurance to protect them in the event of a problem. Especially for people in low-income areas, it could be a huge thing. And yet, people concerned about low-income transportation focus solely on public transit, pushing for the eradication of cars because they’re only concerned about urban environments.