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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

November 19, 2008

Share The Car, Not Just The Road

Green_car CarShare Vermont is an interesting new nonprofit that will open for business in Burlington in just a few weeks. Its mission is to provide an affordable, convenient and reliable alternative to private car ownership that will also reduce the community’s overall car usage. I sat down with founding Executive Director Annie Bourdon to find out what’s driving CarShare’s efforts.

BOB KILPATRICK: Where does the idea for car sharing come from?
ANNIE BOURDON: Car sharing is a national trend. I moved here from San Francisco in 2004, where I helped a friend start City CarShare, which was the first nonprofit car-sharing organization in the country. Right around the time I moved up here, I got connected with some folks from Burlington who were really interested in car sharing and we said, “Let’s do it!”

BK: Tell me about the model — how does it work?
AB: It’s a pretty easy concept. We have a network of cars, we own the cars, we insure them and we insure our members. The cars are all decentralized, so, unlike a rental car company where you have to go to a designated site and fill out the paper work and the cars are all parked in one lot, our cars are all self-accessible and parked around town. You have to reserve a car before you use it. You can hop online and use our website or pick up a phone and use our automated phone system. You can reserve the car for as little as half an hour or as long as you want. You pay $4.95 an hour and 25 cents a mile. That includes comprehensive insurance and gas.

BK: How many vehicles do you have?
AB: We are planning on launching with eight. They will be located at six pods around the city. A pod is simply where the car is parked, and there will be a sign designating that it is for CarShare only.

BK: What types of cars are they?
AB: If everything goes according to plan, we will have hybrid Toyota Priuses and all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza hatchbacks. That’s a good mix of having really fuel-efficient cars and cars that will be great in the winter.

BK: What if a business such as Seven Days wanted to become a member of CarShare?
AB: Car sharing is ideal for businesses, not just for mobility needs — like, you need to get to a meeting — but it also encourages employees not to drive to work. Oftentimes employees will drive to work just because of the fear that they might need their car during the day. So, by having access to CarShare, employees can use alternative transportation and know that if they need a car, they can use one of ours. There’s a modest monthly fee, which ranges on the number of employee drivers, and then they pay the exact same hourly and mileage rates. The business receives a detailed, itemized invoice. We really take the hassle out of fleet management, so we save on administrative costs for the business, too.

BK: How does providing people with cars reduce car usage?
AB: People often don’t make the connection, but car sharing inevitably results in a dramatic reduction in the amount people drive. The carbon reduction is about a ton a year for each member. That’s significant. When you buy a car, you’ve already sunk money into it. You rationally want to get your money’s worth. When you pay by the mile, something shifts; it’s a behavioral change and you just decide, Do I really need to drive, or could I walk, could I bike, could I take the bus? If you own a car, you drive it. So just by not owning — and even though it’s significantly less money to drive a CarShare vehicle — people just drive less. What we think is so phenomenal about our service is that it’s convenient, it’s cost effective, it’s super practical, and it still results in all these benefits for the community and the environment. We also help increase mobility for folks who just can’t afford to drive, and when it’s freezing cold and they’ve got to bring their kid to a doctor’s appointment, we give them access to a car. There’s really not a downside to car sharing.

BK: How can people find out more so they can decide if they’d like to become a member?
AB: They can go on our website, which is carsharevt.org. It has a great overview of how it works. They are welcome to call me at 861-2340, or to stop by our office at 131 St. Paul Street. I’m more than happy to sit down and answer questions.


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Of course, VT has to reinvent the wheel. Wasn't ZipCar good enough for Burlington or did the founder need to be a cool VT entrepreneur?

Bob Kilpatrick

Why such sour grapes?

Zipcar is undeniably a big player in car sharing. Does that mean they have to be the only game in town? Zipcar is also a for-profit, while CarShare Vermont is a non-profit. Perhaps that gives us a further clue to their motivations and another possible distinction separating the two.

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