December 14, 2008
“People ask me if I don't feel worried about starting a business just at the beginning of a recession,” says Pam Cooley. “I tell them No, because I think this business is really going to help people get through the recession, so I think it's going to do very well.”
Pam is president and co-owner of CarShareHFX, which opened up in Halifax earlier this month. The other owner is general manager Peter Zimmer. In essence, their service gives you the use of a car whenever you need one – but without the cost and hassle of owning one. More than 40,000 Canadians already belong to car-sharing services, and the number is growing rapidly.
Small wonder. On average, North Americans spend 19% of their incomes on their cars. As our belts tighten, more and more people are reducing their use of cars – living near their work, telecommuting, car-pooling, using public transit, cycling and walking. But for toting groceries or visiting the suburbs, cars remain almost indispensable.
Enter the car-sharing programs. With CarShareHFX, members pay a flat annual fee – about $250 – and an hourly rental ($10 an hour to use a car in peak periods, $3 in the small hours of the night). That's it. The fees cover everything – gas, insurance, maintenance, even a MacPass for crossing the bridges – and are charged monthly to your credit card.
The cars – Hondas, Kias and Toyotas, including the hybrid Prius – all have automatic transmissions, air conditioning, child seat anchors, stereo systems, an emergency kit and 24/7 roadside assistance. As CarShareHFX grows, Pam and Peter hope to add bio-fuelled vehicles, prestige cars and sports cars as well as workhorses cargo vans and pickups.
To use the service, the member reserves the car online or by telephone. Cars are located in seven central locations now – six on the peninsula of Halifax, one in downtown Dartmouth, with more to come as membership grows. At the appointed time, the member goes to the shared car and places a little electronic “fob” over a transceiver inside the car window. The door unlocks. The ignition key is inside, tied on a lanyard so it won't be accidentally taken away. Vroom. Go.
Most people, says Pam, find that they spend about as much on their car-sharing membership as they used to spend on their car insurance alone. Using a car only when they really need one, they drive far fewer miles in a year – and the one car, with its one parking place, can serve about 20 drivers. The effect on congestion, parking and emissions can be spectacular. CommunAuto, Montreal's car-share service – the first one in North America – reckons that 250 cars in its fleet take 3500 cars off the road..
In fact, car-sharing has become so mainstream that green property developers in cities like Ottawa are including car-share memberships in the amenities of their condos, and providing space for car-share vehicles to park right inside the building. Some foresee a day when the developer's obligation to provide parking will be sharply reduced for buildings which incorporate car-sharing in their design.
Car-sharing also has significant advantages for businesses of all sizes. For larger companies, it preserves the organization's capital while giving employees guaranteed access to a fleet of vehicles, with every trip logged and tracked in detail. Home businesses can also husband their capital while impressing their clients by arriving at meetings in a sparkling new car.
Capital Health and the Nova Scotia Community College are already members of CarShareHFX. The province is also interested, and for the government which passed the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, car-sharing should be a no-brainer. Likewise with the Halifax Regional Municipality. In Philadelphia, says Pam Cooley, 55,000 people car-share – and the biggest member is the city.
But the concept will work far beyond the big city – as it does, for instance, in Nelson, BC, pop. 9300.
“Eventually, we'd also like to provide the service in smaller Maritime towns, and even in rural areas,” says Peter Zimmer. It's quite feasible, says Pam Cooley. The key factors are simply “enthusiasm and demand.”
Nurture the planet and save money, too. Does it get much better than that?
-- 30 --