Guest Blog: Start Me Up by Shayne Woodsmith

Guest Blog: Start Me Up by Shayne Woodsmith

I got my first car in 1996. I was 16. It was an ‘81, rust-coloured, hatchback Toyota Celica. It came out the same year The Rolling Stones dropped the single “Start Me Up”. If only that Celica was the Mick Jagger of cars and never stopped once it started up, but it was only a year younger than me at the time and 15 human years is like 93 car years. So it was old and wheezy and occasionally didn’t start up at all.

But I loved that car. It ushered me into a new era of freedom in my life—no more running to catch the bus, no more cycling ten kilometres to and from work, no more asking for rides.

I grew up in the suburbs where the only things within walking distance were other houses and a lone gas station where I bought candy as a kid and then gasoline and candy as a teenager. Owning a car was a significant life upgrade—I felt like Leo on the bow of the Titanic yelling, “I’m the king of the world!” In my ‘81 Celica, I was the king of the world, windows down, mixtape in the cassette player, “The World I Know” by Collective Soul blasting from blown speakers.

As I got older, I bought newer and newer cars—cassettes gave way to CDs, CDs to MP3s, MP3s to iPods. Then after owning cars for almost two decades, I again upgraded my life, but this time I felt more like Mel Gibson when he yells, “Freedom!” while being disembowelled at the end of Braveheart. As I exchanged my ‘07 Mini Cooper for a certified cheque and then watched my all-time favourite car drive away forever, I wondered why this upgrade felt like a downgrade.

I haven’t owned a car for two years now—no more car payments and insurance premiums, no more oil changes, breakdowns, or surprise $1,000 repairs, no more parking tickets, getting towed, or bananas in tailpipes. I replaced driving with walking, more bike riding, taking transit, hailing Ubers, and when I need a car, hopping in a Pogo.

Pogo CarShare launched in 2014 and provides an alternative to car ownership in Edmonton. 

Pogo CarShare launched in 2014 and provides an alternative to car ownership in Edmonton. 

Maybe you’ve seen Pogo cars around town but you don’t know what they’re all about. Allison Harrison, communications and marketing manager for Pogo CarShare, describes the company’s service as “just another way to get around Edmonton … once you're a member, you download the Pogo app. When you open up the app, you can see where all the Pogo cars are in relation to you and when you need to drive a car, you can just unlock the vehicle right from your phone, drive it to where you need to go, and leave it when you get there. And the best thing about Pogo is that parking's free.”

Pogo Map

It’s like borrowing a friend’s car that’s always available, costs $0.47 per minute, comes with gas money, you can keep for as long as you like, and drive wherever you want. It’s a great option for people with licences but without cars, for people who occasionally need a car but don’t want to own one that sits idle most of the time.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of cars parked in Edmonton every day,” explains Kieran Ryan, co-founder of Pogo CarShare. “The one car you can drive is the car that you own. You can imagine a space where there's going to be thousands of vehicles on the street, that you can jump in any one of them and drive where you want to go … I think there's a future where it's not just that you're going to have an alternative that's kind of like a personal vehicle but maybe not quite as good, to an alternative that is cheaper, faster, and better than a personal vehicle. That's really exciting.”

Co-Founders James Kwan and Kieran Ryan.

Co-Founders James Kwan and Kieran Ryan.

Yvette Stack is also excited about the evolution of transportation in her city. She owned a car for about 50 years. Two years ago she decided to adopt a car-free lifestyle and gave her car to her granddaughter.

“When I first got a car and learned to drive when I was young, I found that really liberating,” Yvette recalls while sitting back in a comfy-looking chair in her living room. “I thought, ‘This is so wonderful, I can hop in the car and go anywhere I want, whenever I want.’ So that was very liberating at the time, but it's funny, now at this end of my life I've found it very liberating to be without the car. I don't have to worry about insurance and all the expenses and getting it fixed, and sometimes big expenses, new tires and things like that. So I just find it very liberating not to have to worry about a car … I find it really frees up quite a bit of money every month.”

Yvette is such a proud Pogo member that when she hops out of a car and a passerby looks at her curiously before asking, “What’s Pogo?” she speaks so highly of the service that folks practically download the Pogo app after speaking to her.

Yvette Stack is all set in her Pogo!

Yvette Stack is all set in her Pogo!

“It's been excellent for me,” Yvette says. “There’s usually a car not too far away. When I need a car, I look on my app and see where the closest one is and sometimes there's one only a block away. More often than not, I have to maybe walk about three blocks, but that's all right. Of course when I come home I can leave it right in front of my house, so that's very convenient when I've gone to get groceries.”

Not everyone is as lucky as Yvette and able to park Pogo cars in front of their homes—Pogo CarShare has a parking zone. You can driving a Pogo anywhere in or out of the city, but when you’d like to finish your trip and leave the car for the next person, you must park within the zone. The zone stretches east to west from Groat Road in the east to 87 Street in Riverdale in the west, and from 107 Avenue in the north to 76 Avenue. in the south. 

The zone may seem small but the folks at Pogo are working hard out of their office space in Startup Edmonton every day to grow the zone and their fleet of vehicles. “Pogo Carshare are incredibly active members of the startup community,” explains Tiffany Linke-Boyko, CEO of Startup Edmonton. “Co-founder James Kwan joined us in the space when he was starting out, and we were thrilled to have them at Launch Party in 2014. Since that time, we’ve had the privilege of watching their team grow, seeing more and more of their cars on the streets, and witnessing the positive impact they are making in our city.”

According to Tiffany, one of the best perks of working out of Startup Edmonton in the Mercer Warehouse is that “you get to meet so many people that are focused on the same kinds of challenges as you. Creative collisions, like chats over lunch or in the shared space on the comfy couches, are a great way to gain a perspective on your own work.” And like Yvette, the members at Startup Edmonton are some of Pogo's biggest fans. “They drive the cars, champion Pogo to everyone they meet, and even appear in marketing materials. It's a great example of how the community supports one another.”

Allison Harrison says she loves working for a startup because she gets to work out of a cool space with supportive and likeminded folks who are doing interesting things. She also likes working for a small team because she gets to foster her creative side, doing and learning new things every day. When asked what her hopes are for Pogo’s future, Allison claps her hands together, smiles excitedly, and says, “That every single Edmontonian has a Pogo membership … It’d be awesome for Edmontonians to think of Pogo as another transportation option.”

Allison Harrison in the Startup Edmonton Social Space. 

Allison Harrison in the Startup Edmonton Social Space. 

A lot of Edmontonians already think that way. A recent survey of Pogo members revealed that hundreds of people had given up their vehicles, decided not to purchased new ones, or chose not to replace old ones since Pogo arrived in the city. “I think that's tremendously rewarding,” Kieran says, sitting inside a parked Pogo car. “To know that you're giving people that option not to own a vehicle and that they're changing how they get around and they're changing their lifestyle based on the service that you're offering.”

“It can be really challenging to live without a vehicle,” Kieran explains. “I think what's really interesting right now is there's all these aspects that are coming together that are changing that, so urban planners are thinking a lot more about pedestrians and making cities walkable and not just for cars. Transportation planners are starting to think not just about how to move traffic but about other users of the right-of-way space … I think we talk a lot in this day and age about climate change and the need to change our habits. The truth is, if you don't want a car in Edmonton and you don't have access to a car, it can be a pretty difficult city to get around in and to live in. I think a big part of making these changes and letting people live a lifestyle that they want to live while being more conscious about their carbon emissions is you have to provide them with options.”

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About Shayne

Shayne Woodsmith is an award-winning writer and the creator of the popular Faces of Edmonton photoblog and book. His debut novel, Twenty-Seven, is a work of science fiction, his second, My Brother Mercy, is a quarter-life crisis coming-of-age story. Shayne is also part of the Make Something Edmonton and Urban Economy teams at Edmonton Economic Development.