Car-sharing program in the works

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said he is trying to find people interested in helping to start a car-sharing program in Minneapolis, using only hybrid cars, in conjunction with an existing St. Paul program called hOurcar.

Mary Morse, executive director of the St. Paul Energy Consortium, started the program, which is still in its formative stages. The program would be the first of its kind in the Twin Cities.

How does car-sharing work? According to the hOurcar Web site, a driver must apply to join; then, the program runs a check of his or her insurance and driving record.

Once approved, the driver pays a projected $500 deposit and receives a handbook and "key fob" that gives access to the cars. To use a car, the driver must make an on-line reservation. The driver then must get to the nearest car location to use a car and return it to that same spot when finished.

Right now, Morse said, she is working on getting funding for the Minneapolis-St. Paul program, which will require $150,000 per year for three years before the program can gain sustainability. The insurance component, she said, is the trickiest part of putting a car-share together because it's still a new concept in this part of the country.

"It's difficult for some insurance companies to manage the risk of lots of people using the car," Morse said.

But she's hopeful because she's in close negotiations with a California company that insures other car shares.

Minneapolis involvement Niziolek said he's focused on recruitment and funding efforts to get the program going in Minneapolis. He said $10,000 of the city's residential parking fund has been dedicated to a Minneapolis pilot project. The project's main focus, he said,

is to form a steering committee to identify funding sources, to market to interested parties and find businesses or individuals to donate parking space for the shared cars.

He said the Uptown area is ideal for such a progressive program, because there is such high density and a transit mindset among residents -- himself included. Niziolek said he already does car-sharing informally with his neighbors. He said this program would be especially helpful to people like him who don't want to own a second car they'd use sparingly.

For more information on car-sharing, go to www.hourcar.org. To join or plan a car-sharing program in Minneapolis, contact Niziolek's office at 673-2210.