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$4 an hour car ‘ownership’ program catching on in Bay

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A three-year-old program to get people out of their cars by offering communal cars by the hour appears to be gaining traction, according to a recent University of California, Berkeley, study of the City CarShare program.

By Sean Holstege, STAFF WRITER

http://www.sanmateocountytimes.com/Stories/0,1413,87%7E11268%7E1902900,00.html

Those in the know recognize the City CarShare cars by the trademark neon-green Volkswagen Beetle with the nonprofit’s logo on the side. The Beetle bugs make up a little more than half the 80-car fleet, which serves 3,000 members in a program that is growing largely by word of mouth.

The idea is simple: Sprinkle cars around densely populated neighborhoods in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco that are well-served by mass transit. Then rent those cars for $2 to $4 an hour and 44 cents a mile to people who need cars for short periods of time to run errands or drive to appointments.

Members get all the advantages of a car without the cost, the theory goes. No insurance, no car payments, no mechanic’s bills, no parking tickets — which for a typical Bay Area resident can pile up to $6,000 a year for a compact car. And they don’t have to spend more than they need on a traditional rental.

"We’re trying to change the economics of car ownership," said City CarShare Executive Director Larry Magid. "When people invest that much in their car, they feel they’d better use it."

"We found that our cars sat in the garage, on the San Mateo Bridge or at an airport most of the time. We were paying $15 to $20 a day to park," said Ann Blake, a 39-year-old environmental consultant who works from her Alameda home. Since September, she has picked up a CarShare bug once every other week to meet with clients and decided not to renew the lease on her family’s second car.

The notion, which Magid likens to "insurance for people who use transit," appears to be catching on.

Magid said the program is expanding into Emeryville, Palo Alto and Mountain View. Similar programs exist in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Portland and about 400 cities worldwide.

Berkeley transportation researchers reported last week that 30 percent of San Franciscans who enrolled later sold one or more of their cars. Overall car use among members fell 47 percent, reducing 13,000 miles of car travel, 720 gallons of gas consumption and 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every day.

The study, described as the most in-depth of its kind in the world, was based on travel logs of CarShare members and people who fit the same demographics.

**People are always complaining about gas prices and I don’t have to worry about that. It’s pretty good as long as you’re good with your planning or not pressed for time,** he said.

When CarShare members sign up they get an electronic key. Without it, they can’t enter the car or start it. An on-board computer tracks their mileage and time and at the end of the month they get a bill on their credit card. If they have an accident, CarShare’s pool insurance covers all but a $500 deductible.

That’s why CarShare doesn’t rent to just anybody. After submitting to a background check, drivers with two insurance points or convictions for DUI, hit-and-run or reckless driving will be denied membership. It’s an important business decision, because City CarShare, with a staff of 10 and an annual budget of $3 million, is only 71 percent self-sufficient. The rest is subsidized by government grants and charity.

Magid’s goal is to make CarShare pay for itself. He needs 10,000 members to get there, something he estimates will take four years. A recent $500,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission allows CarShare to offer half-price membership for CalWorks recipients who cannot rely on BART or buses to help them make the transition from welfare to work.

The number one thing is it has to be reliable, Magid said. So CarShare automatically tracks late returns and alerts the customer who is due to pick it up at the pod. Cars must always go back to their pod; there are no one-way trips. Sometimes people are late, leaving the next customer in the lurch.

If we can’t get a car to you in 10 minutes, we will pay for a cab to anywhere in the Bay Area, Magid said. The late driver pays an inconvenience fee, and the stranded driver gets credited the same amount.

Lee has only been stuck once.

You kind of miss the convenience of just hopping in your car. You have to plan your time better and be a little more flexible about your schedule, he says.>

For more information, visit http://www.citycarshare.org

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