HOURCAR in expansion mode


Need a car? Try not owning one.

Back in December, I asked Christopher Bineham, from HOURCAR, if people use car-sharing more in the winter months. I thought that with colder weather, people who walk or bike for shopping or to get other places might be turning to car-sharing as a seasonal alternative. When it snows, you don’t have to dig out HOURCAR cars. All their spaces are cleared by a contractor within 24 hours of a snowfall. All cars also have a scraper and small shovel. They are ready to roll, even in winter.

But, Christopher said, “No.” He said HOURCAR staff also had expected higher usage in winter, but the stats don’t bear it out. The highest use of HOURCAR car-sharing is in the spring and fall. Summer is steady.

So, with spring hovering at the edge of our latitude and high in our minds, it seemed a good time to check in with HOURCAR, especially as they are expanding. The HOURCAR fleet grew from 39 to 65 cars in 2013 and this year will jump to 80 cars.

According to Christopher, the expansion plan is following two philosophies. One is to add more locations or “hubs” in areas already served by HOURCAR. The idea is to have cars a quarter- to a half-mile apart. This works, Christopher says, to attract new users and to make sure existing users have a backup location. The other philosophy is to add locations along specific corridors, such as along the Green Line LRT and along Lake Street.

HOURCAR is participating in the City of Minneapolis’ Car-Sharing pilot program, which allows use of some on-street parking spots for car-sharing vehicles. (Car2Go, which uses a different model of car-sharing, is also part of this pilot program.) HOURCAR announced five on-street locations in December—North Loop, Loring Park, Elliot Park, Stevens Square, and at Lyndale and 26th Street. Other locations are in parking lots or ramps. A few locations have multiple cars available. And the fleet includes three small trucks.

The hub locations match up with the places HOURCAR members live: about two-thirds are in Minneapolis and one-third St. Paul.

A glance at the station map shows that the coverage is very strong on an arc from Uptown through downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota. New stations recently were added in south Minneapolis in the Kingfield neighborhood, at Pillsbury and West 33 Street, and at Lyndale and 31st. The southernmost stations are in Linden Hills and at the 46th Street Blue Line LRT station, while the northernmost station is along 13th Avenue in the Sheridan neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. Stations in Saint Paul are along Como, University, and Grand Avenues, and downtown, in the Lawson Parking Ramp, at TPT on Jackson Street, and on East 7th Street.

I was kind of surprised to hear from Christopher that the majority of HOURCAR members do not own a car. I had thought that families or couples with one car might find car-sharing a way to avoid buying a second car. Nationally, trends show that there are rising numbers of no-car or one-car families. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of households with no vehicle grew by nearly one million households, according to the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). The biggest change was the growth in households with one vehicle —nearly 3 million more households than in 2001, up to 32 percent of all households in 2009.

Christopher Bineham says people use HOURCAR “for the shorter trips they were designed for,” such as errands, meetings, medical appointments, or going out for the evening. The busiest times for reservations are Thursday and Friday nights and all-day Saturday and Sunday. HOURCAR members typically use a car for three to five hours and usually drive about 6 miles per hour reserved.

If the average annual cost of owning a car is $9,122 or 60.8 cents per mile (according to the American Automobile Association), turning to HOURCAR instead can save a lot of money. There are different membership plans available (including a student plan), but the basic individual plan calls for paying $8 per hour, 25 cents per mile, and a $5 monthly membership fee. There is a one-time application fee, but otherwise fuel, insurance, and maintenance are covered. Members can reserve cars online or by calling HOURCAR. Most members reserve at most a day ahead of when they plan to use the car. 

Hilary Reeves is the communications director of Bike Walk Twin Cities