Prius-sharing program arrives in Uptown this spring

Want to use a car but don't want to own one? If you can easily get to an Uptown parking ramp, you can join the hOurCar program set to debut this spring.

The program will let members "check out" 2004 or 2005 Toyota Priuses for $6.95 an hour plus 45 cents a mile (with $5 monthly membership dues) or for $4.95 an hour plus 39 cents a mile (with $20 monthly dues). The fee covers gas, car repairs and the driver's insurance.

Six Priuses will be shared between the Uptown hub and locations in Loring Park and St. Paul's Lowertown. Members will reserve cars through the Web site or by phone. (If you're interested in signing up for the program or finding out more information, you can do so at the Web site.)

Organizer Mary Morse said the Uptown site would be close to the bus hub at Hennepin Avenue and the Midtown Greenway. According to Minneapolis City Council Aide Gay Noble, two possibilities are parking ramps at the YWCA, 2808 Hennepin Ave. S. and Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S.

Officials of the St. Paul-based Neighborhood Energy Consortium (NEC) say the program allows people to save money by sharing cars, while minimizing pollution. That's because the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, puts out 90 percent fewer pollutants than the average new vehicle and gets 55 miles per gallon in city driving.

Presumably, people would rent the cars when mass-transit routes aren't convenient and taxis and rental cars are too expensive.

The University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs will evaluate the local hOurCar effort. The program hopes to start with 150 members.

The program's startup costs are funded by a $275,000 federal appropriation plus $50,000 from Hennepin County and $25,000 from the Saint Paul Foundation. There is also a state operating subsidy. NEC has contributed $60,000.