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Users say I-GO offers convenient, inexpensive alternative to car ownership

by John Skelly Jr.
Oct 19, 2011

Not owning a car has never been so cool.

Since the CTA partnered with I-GO Car Sharing in 2008 to develop a joint smart card capable of accessing both the CTA and I-GO cars, Chicagoans have been saving money and the environment at the same time. It was the first partnership between a public transit agency and a car sharing service in the U.S.

The costs of auto ownership –

 monthly payments, gas, insurance, maintenance and parking – is expensive. Chicagoans who participate in car sharing can generate savings as much as $5,000 a year in reduced transportation costs.

According to AAA, Americans spend an annual average of $7,319 to own and maintain a car. Car sharers spend somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000 to $3,000 annually. Add the cost of CTA fares to that total and it’ll more than likely still be less than owning a car.

The Chicago Card Plus/I-GO joint smart card sets up two separate accounts on one piece of plastic. Riders can swipe it at CTA turnstiles and then use it to check out hybrid or electric vehicles parked at or near CTA locations. Each account is charged separately and cannot be seen or accessed by the other agency. There are about 1,800 CCP/IGO cards in circulation as of the end of September.

“We showed the CTA through surveying and data collection that a majority of I-GO members either sell a car or postpone the decision to buy a car, and the number one predictor of decreased transit use is buying a car,” said Richard Kosmacher, business development manager of I-GO.

Doreen Rice hasn’t owned a car since 1990.

“When I-GO came along I was very excited,” she said. “If I had a million errands to run I used to use Avis, but after tax, title and gas, it got expensive. I use I-GO if I am going somewhere where ‘acquiring’ will be happening – a day at Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s.”

Rice said she has four I-GO locations within four blocks of her home and she’s always able to get the car she wants. “Even if you need gas, there is a gas card in the glove box and insurance is included in the yearly fee,” she said.

I-GO sees itself as a form of public transportation that provides the last mile solution for the CTA. “You could have the most extensive transit system in the world but every rail line has to have an end. If you have I-GO cars at a station, people can take a car,” Kosmacher said.

“There is certainly value in the partnership,” said Joseph Schofer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University. “It means the CTA is starting to think about not so much directly delivering public transit services, but how to meet the needs of a population. You do it through a mixture of services, not a unitary service.”

“When we go to the Ravinia Festival over the summer it’s more convenient to rent an I-GO car for four or five hours than to take the train all the way,” said Stephen Nidetz, an I-GO car share user. Nidetz said there’s multiple cars parked around his Lakeview East home and it’s especially convenient during the winter.  

Wanda Taylor, a CTA official, said the CTA leases parking spaces to both I-GO and Zipcar at 20 stations around Chicago. Private garages also lease spaces around CTA bus stops and train stations.

The combined efforts of I-GO and the CTA mean Chicagoans nearly always have an economical way of getting from point A to point B.