Today, you can enjoy the freedom of being in the driver’s seat while eliminating all of the expense of owning — or leasing — and maintaining a car by joining a car-share service. Zipcar is leading the way.

Available in more than 40 U.S. cities, Zipcar lets members locate cars conveniently parked at designated spots around the city and reserve them for an hourly fee (typically between $10.50 and $16.50). Members arrive at the parking spot, swipe their membership card over the windshield sensor to unlock the door, hop in, and go. There’s no need to pay for gasoline or insurance; Zipcar has got you covered.

You won’t sacrifice your ride either; Zipcar lets you choose from models like the BMW 325, Mini Cooper, Honda Fit, Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Volvo S40, Mazda 3, and Subaru Outback. According to the company’s surveys, over time Zipcar members reduce their car usage by as much as 50 percent. They always have access to cars, but also become more inclined to walk, bike, take public transit, or hop in a taxi. (It’s okay, you won’t go to hell for taking a taxi). As for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, Zipcar estimates that each of its cars removes the equivalent of about 15 privately owned vehicles from the road.

Other car-sharing services are popping up across the country. Check out when you’re in Madison, Wis.; when visiting Minneapolis, Minn.; and when hanging in Philadelphia, Pa.

Car-sharing is proving so popular with people who appreciate the convenience of having a car constantly accessible — without having to ask Mom or Dad for permission to use it —t hat Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the largest rental car company in the world, has started WeCar, a car-share service currently available in St. Louis, Mo. Not to be outdone, Hertz recently announced its own car-share program called Connect by Hertz. Car-sharing not only reduces vehicle carbon emissions, but also overall consumption. And since cars typically weigh thousands of pounds and require loads of natural resources to manufacture, eliminating the demand for so many cars without sacrificing your ride puts you in the environmental driver’s seat.

*** Excerpted from Josh's forthcoming book, "The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget."

More Zipcar stories on MNN:

Dig your ride while saving the planet
Zipcar leads the way in car-sharing services, with convenient parking, cool cars and no need to pay for gas or insurance.