Dear Umbra,

Do you know of any car-rental companies that offer hybrids? I have heard of a bunch in environmentally friendly California, but my quick search in the Boston area has turned up nil. With high gas prices, I think I’m brewing up a new campaign!

Dorchester, Mass.

Dearest Jean,

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An environmentally focused rental group, EV Rental Cars, has joined forces with a big-name rental company, Budget, to offer hybrid choices in select “markets”: Washington, D.C., major metropolitan areas in California, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Virginia. That might help some Grist readers, but it doesn’t help you, Jean. However, I found hints that hybrids will join other fleets in farther-flung markets in the future, so keep the hope alive. Each time you must rent a car, search the web and, if you find no hybrids available, be sure to mention your disappointment to the rental agent. (I suspect the new campaign you mention may have a similar game plan.)

2005 Toyota Prius.

Photo: Auto Deadline.

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Meanwhile, I wonder if car sharing would meet your needs. You live in Dorchester and wish to rent a car in the Boston area. If my wild between-the-lines reading is correct, you want a car for an occasional trip, probably relatively near your home. Car sharing would be perfect. Car sharing is an organized way to share the burden (environmental, economic, and otherwise) of automobile use with complete strangers. You don’t have to do the organizing: car-sharing businesses have sprung up around the country and the world. (Some are run by volunteers, in case you do like to organize.) The cars are maintained and insured by someone else, and, depending on your locale, may be hybrids, or even cute, trendy MINIs. Doesn’t that sound divine?

The car-sharing business model can vary. Generally, you pay a membership fee plus mileage and/or hourly fees when you use a car. The annual membership fee at one company, Flexcar, is usually about $35 per year. You choose a rate package with usage fees that range from $9 per hour to anywhere from $42 to $700 per month, depending on how much you want to drive. Not so pricey, huh? Even discounting the costs of purchasing a car, making repairs, and filling the tank, I bet you pay the equivalent of a mid-range car-sharing rate for car insurance alone — and live in fear of getting one more “moving violation” and losing your coverage.

With shared cars, you won’t have to worry about any of that. The cars are parked in neighborhoods around the city. You just reserve one near your home using the phone or internet, and return it on time when you’re done. In short, all the convenience of a personal automobile without the hassle. If you joined a program with a hybrid, you’d get twice as much bang for your eco-buck: an efficient car shared among one giant family. Take the leap.