A new way to get around: sharing a car Downtown

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October 10, 2005 // UPDATED 1:58 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jerret Raffety
Jerret Raffety

How to have a car when you need it — and only pay when you do

An increasing number of people Downtown are enjoying driving without the expensive part: the car. All this driving is possible because of a new car-sharing program called hOURcar.

The program allows members to reserve one of 11 Toyota Prius gasoline/electric hybrid cars located in 10 locations all over the Twin Cities. Rather than buy a car — with the necessary car payments, gas charges and insurance costs — members pay fees that are far less.

Three locations are Downtown. In Loring Park, the hub is at the Loring Municipal Ramp, Nicollet Avenue & West Grant Street. In the Mill District, the hub is at 704 S. 2nd St., by the Milwaukee Railroad Depot. And in the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood, the hub is at East Hennepin Avenue & Northeast 2nd Street.

Corinthian Dahlstrand, a hOURcar member and Loring Park resident, said car-sharing is something he had heard about and was looking forward to seeing the Twin Cities.

“I work Downtown and I live Downtown — I just didn’t see the need to have a car,” Dahlstrand said.

He said, after 13 years of not owning a car, he was thinking of buying one again to make running errands and visiting family easier. HOURcar proved far less expensive.

“It’s not possible that I’m the only one in that situation, where they’re thinking of getting a car again but they really don’t want to; now they can use hOURcar,” he said.

The Neighborhood Energy Consortium founded the program. According to Executive Director Mary Morse, “People are seeing are a real hit to their own pocket book in terms of their car ownership,” she said. “If you don’t drive often but you need a car sometimes, car-sharing is the way to do it.”

How it works

So what does it cost to use an hOURcar?

Drivers begin with a one-time $50 membership fee, which includes a $25 driving credit. HOURcar checks driving records and only takes those with safe records.

Then, they choose one of several rates. There are two flexible-rate plans: A $5 monthly fee entitles you to a $6.95-per-hour rental plus 45 cents per mile. A $20 monthly fee results in a $4.95-per-hour charge and 39 cents per mile. (Under either plan, the charge is $2.95 per hour between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.).

There are also fixed-rate packages. For example, the “Smart 5” Plan costs $38 a month and entitles drivers to five hours of monthly use and up to 75 miles. “It’s good for people who want to know what they’ll pay every month,” Morse said.

If the price still seems high, consider this: fees include gas and insurance. Members also have 24-hour roadside assistance and staff available by phone 24 hours a day, Morse said.

Each member carries a “key fob” that unlocks any of the 11 cars. A small computer tracks the mileage, and customers pay monthly via automatic deduction from a checking account or credit card.

Prospective members can use hOURcar’s Web site (www.hourcar.org) to calculate what a car is costing them and they can then compare that to what a membership and mileage would cost them.

Morse also said hOURcar members are helping the environment because sharing cars uses less fuel and resources, and the members drive cleaner and more-energy-efficient hybrid cars.

The program, which began in June, has grown from 20 to about 70 members, Morse said. She added that she is optimistic hOURcar will reach its recruiting goal of a new member per day.

The car-sharing lifestyle

Dahlstrand said his primary modes of transportation are walking, biking and occasionally light rail. But, he has used hOURcar once so far — to run to Home Depot and Target for supplies while remodeling his condominium.

“I think it’s a great idea because of all the people that are moving Downtown and living Downtown,” he said. “To not currently have a grocery store Downtown, it’s a great idea for people to be able to rent a car for just an hour or two and not have to rely on bus schedules and the light rail.”

John Van Heel, president of the Citizens for a Loring Park Community neighborhood group and self-proclaimed car-sharing advocate, said the program will go a long way towards helping his organization achieve its goals of beautifying and enhancing the Loring Park neighborhood.

He said because people could use cars only when they need them, the program would reduce Downtown traffic congestion and noise and the cars parked on the street, he said. “Car-sharing is not about driving cars — it’s actually a tool to support a more pedestrian and transit-oriented lifestyle,” Van Heel said.

Car-sharing could also be a valuable tool for the Downtown business community as much as residents, he said. Many people drive to work Downtown because they may have a meeting or appointment away from their jobsite, or they might have to run home; car-sharing could help to alleviate this, Van Heel said.

Car-sharing’s future

Morse said she hopes to have over 100 cars in service in the next five years with hOURcar hubs at major light rail and bus stops. By then, she hopes the program will have 3,000 to 4,000 members.

However, she said hOURcar should be only part of one’s transportation options.

“We are really part of a transportation puzzle; we’re not going to replace other things. There’s a place for taxis; there’s very much a place for buses, light rails, walking, biking,” Morse said.

“HOURcar is just a piece, and if people can put that whole puzzle together in way that makes sense for them, they’ll save a lot of money; and we think they’ll have a lot of fun.”

For more information, visit www.hourcar.org.