If industrial capitalism and climate change do not destroy everything, it will be because people (especially people in rich countries) change their behaviors. I have long believed that part of the mission of the intentional communities movement is to communicate our experience and tools for resource sharing to a mainstream audience.
I have written about car sharing and the mainstream problem of failing to design good sharing practices because of the tendency to create brittle agreements. Today i will focus on the communication systems which make it work at Twin Oaks, unfortunately with slightly blurry pictures.
It starts here with the Vehicle Log.
If you want a car, you need to make a reservation. You make your request in the vehicle log, depicted above. You specify who you are, when you are going (what time of day, there is a unique sheet for every day), where you are going (LT is Louisa Town > 7 miles, LL is Louisa Local < 7 miles, C is Charlottesville, R is Richmond, A is Acorn, etc) and what type of vehicle you want (sedan, station wagon, mini-van, cargo van, pick up truck, 15 person passenger van) and what area is going to pay for the vehicle.
You sign up at least before 6 PM the night before you need the vehicle, then the vehicle assigner comes in and decodes this puzzle which has been created for them. When i have been well behaved and signed out a vehicle in advance, i have perhaps half a dozen times in the 15 years that i have been here not been able to get a vehicle. Typically, this is because i want a car for a personal trip and everything is signed out for commune business of some type.
Before you freak out about how it would be completely unacceptable for you to ever not have your car exactly when you wanted it on a moment’s notice, consider this: In the last 15 years have you ever tried to start your car and it did not go? This does not happen to me. The mechanics in the community keep the cars running nearly flawlessly. And while perhaps every other year i have to scramble around for a carpool or borrow someone’s car, i get at least half a day’s notice on this.
When the vehicle assigner gives you a car, they write what you have been assigned in the vehicle log and they place magnets on the above depicted board (which is usually more crowded than this picture). Part of the reason for this board is so that people who are not well behaved (as i often am not) can show up at the last minute and figure out easily which vehicles are available for last minute personal assigning. If there is a conflict between the vehicle log and the magnet board, the vehicle log supersedes.
The magnet board also helps by telling people about the vehicles which they have been assigned. There is a little picture of the profile of the vehicle (if you had 17 cars you might need to be reminded of which looked like what). The number of seats is indicated. Manual versus automatic transmission. The full name of the car and the letters which appear on the vanity license plates.
Our default in community is that we trust people. For 35 years we kept the keys in the cars (this is not that unusual; most of our neighbors here in rural Virginia do the same thing). Then someone stole one of our cars and we bumped up our security a notch. We took the keys out of the cars and put them in the lock box depicted above, which is open most of the time and combination locked when there is no one in the office.
So once you have figured out which car you have, you grab the keys and go.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
So I have a bunch of standard raps I give about the community when giving Saturday tours and talks at schools. This is the one about how we share vehicles.
The average group of 100 US Americans has 67 cars. We have 17. Not buying, insuring and maintaining 50 vehicles represents a significant chunk of change. But the question you should be asking is “Does this limited number of vehicles actually serve the transportation needs of this large group?” Fortunately, badly behaved communards test the system and I am badly behaved. But before we talk about me, let’s look under the hood of this beauty.
If you look at how most people in this country use vehicles, you can tell something about our strategy. The single largest use for cars in the US is commuting to work. We work and live in the same place, number one use down.
The second largest vehicle use is discretionary shopping. We have developed a tripper system which is so complete that almost all members use it instead of shopping themselves. It is the job of one member each day to drive into town with a bunch of pre-formatted slips which instruct them what to buy, where to buy it, what substitutes (if any) are available, where to charge it and where to deliver it. Unless you love the act of shopping, this system will transform your relationship with buying things. 6 days a week we send a tripper to the nearest local town, which is Louisa, then 3 times a week a different tripper goes to the nearest big city, which is Charlottesville and once a week we go to the state capital of Richmond.
So how does this system work when you personally need one of the 17 cars? Well, you sign up the night before and the vehicle assigner come down looks at all the requests and determines which cars, pick ups and vans best serve the needs of the different people requesting vehicles. It is, if you will excuse the pun, an autocratic assignment system. So this is the part that gets to me and my bad behavior.
After all the vehicles are assigned for the next day, people like me (who are poor planners) come after the assignments are complete and look for surplus capacity in the system: slack cars. And I must confess that perhaps 90% of the time I am able to find some vehicle to take me where I want to go. But sometimes I get a pick up truck when I want a sedan.
The key here is that through joint ownership and robust sharing agreements we have moved away from the brittle agreements which typify mainstream attempts to share things.