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Connections to the Corridor: HOURCAR Makes Autos Optional in the Twin Cities

by: Mary Morse, The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC)
September 19, 2012

This post is the second in an occasional series “Connections to the Corridor”.  In this series, we will highlight a variety of efforts underway to connect people to the Central Corridor (officially known as the Green Line) and beyond.

Perhaps you’re already sharing a car with a friend or family member—after all, the act of sharing cars is as old as cars themselves. But when HOURCAR hit the streets in 2005, it inaugurated the era of modern car sharing in Minnesota. Instead of passing keys back and forth across the kitchen table, today’s car sharing enthusiasts reserve vehicles online, gain access and enable ignitions using electronic key fobs, and enjoy clean and safe drives thanks to a crew of local member services staff who dote on members and vehicles alike. Modern car sharing is streamlined and efficient, and most people are able to reserve a car the same day they want it. It’s not uncommon to find 50 drivers happily sharing just one or two cars in their neighborhood!

HOURCAR was founded to make car ownership optional in the Twin Cities. As Minneapolis and Saint Paul become more pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-friendly, residents are expanding their transportation mode repertoires and finding that owning cars is less necessary. Drivers who calculate the full costs of car ownership find that the result is not pretty—most analysts estimate that a typical non-luxury car costs greater than $7,000 per year, for every year of ownership. Couple these ongoing costs with the hassles of finding parking spaces, managing oil changes, and fleeing snow emergencies and it’s no surprise that HOURCAR has seen its member roster grow.

The 38 vehicle HOURCAR fleet is situated across 31 hubs located in densely-populated, transit-rich Twin Cities neighborhoods and on five college campuses. HOURCAR members reserve any vehicle in the fleet for as little as a half hour or as long as three days. Combined with transit, taxis, walking, and biking, a judicious use of HOURCAR provides residents with a convenient and affordable personal transportation network. A variety of vehicles are provided to suit members’ needs, from hatchbacks to pick-up trucks. And while plenty of people use HOURCAR as their second family car, even more members choose to live entirely free from car ownership.

The car-sharing revolution makes a lot of sense from personal and public health perspectives. If you live in the city and own a car, chances are that you’ll use it for trips that could easily be made by bus, rail, bike, or even on foot. This driving leads to significant negative health impacts for you and for the people breathing your car’s emissions. Plus, cars are a major contributor to climate changing carbon pollution. Car sharing is the key piece of the transportation puzzle that allows people to stick with healthier transportation choices like biking and walking. Car sharing is also an excellent vehicle emissions reduction strategy since car sharing members tend to drive fewer miles overall than car owners. Minnesota’s HOURCAR in particular has been a leader in introducing eco-friendly operating practices to the industry, including launching the world’s first shared solar-powered plug-in vehicles in 2006.

HOURCAR is a program of the Neighborhood Energy Connection, a Saint Paul based non-profit that promotes energy conservation across Minnesota. The program’s non-profit status and mission-driven orientation ensure that HOURCAR makes business decisions to benefit its members and the greater Twin Cities community, from pricing to vehicle choices. As a member of the international Car Sharing Association, HOURCAR collaborates with car-sharing operators from across North America and around the world to drive technological and operational advancements. Thanks to these relationships, HOURCAR members enjoy reciprocity with a number of other U.S. car-sharing companies.

The HOURCAR program is poised to grow significantly in the next two years, particularly along Twin Cities transit corridors. HOURCAR management aims to have hubs near most if not all stops on the Green Line, and to extend the existing HOURCAR hub network into new neighborhoods and college campuses as well as adding new hubs within currently-served areas.

HOURCAR member plans are available for individuals, households, students, businesses and organizations. The minimum age of membership is 18. Information on car locations and membership plans is available at www.hourcar.org.

The car sharing service plans to expand over the next two years, including adding hubs near stops along the Green Line.