Ridesharing has come to Como

The new car-sharing service is targeted toward student use.

A HOURCAR sign stands in one of Augsburg College Parking Lot. Students of University of Minnesota who live in the Southeast Como neighborhood will soon be having the car sharing service.

Image by Anthony Kwan

A HOURCAR sign stands in one of Augsburg College Parking Lot. Students of University of Minnesota who live in the Southeast Como neighborhood will soon be having the car sharing service.

by Evelina Smirnitskaya

Out-of-the-way errands and lack of transportation are common problems for urban residents, but a new ridesharing program coming to the Southeast Como neighborhood could become a solution.

Southeast Como Improvement Association is sponsoring an HourCar âÄî a rental car sharing service âÄî to be stationed at Van Cleve Park starting this week.

HourCar, run by Neighborhood Energy Connection, a local nonprofit organization, is aimed at promoting energy efficiency and reducing pollution.

The original plan was to have the car available by the first half of January, but due to weather conditions the car could not be delivered. The piled-up snow was blocking the space for an HourCar sign and parking and had to be cleared since the park authorized only a single spot for the car.

The University of Minnesota already uses a car-sharing program âÄî Zipcar. With 10 cars stationed around both Twin Cities campuses, the program sees more than 2,000 hours reserved each month, Jacqueline Brudlos, communications manager at University Parking and Transportation Services, said.

But James De Sota, SECIAâÄôs neighborhood director, said the association went with the HourCar because itâÄôs a local initiative.

“As a local organization, more of our dollars and more of our revenue remains in the community,” Chirstopher Bineham, HourCar program manager, said.

The genesis of getting a ridesharing service to the Como neighborhood came from SECIAâÄôs Environmental Committee efforts to make ecological improvements to the area, De Sota said.

“One of the biggest things was trying to get people out of their car any way possible,” he said.

It cost $7,000 to get the Honda Fit to Van Cleave Park. The funds came through the McKnight Foundation as part of the large proposal SECIA wrote under its “umbrella concept” of Green Village âÄî the neighborhoodâÄôs plan for promoting sustainability in an urban environment.

Though the idea has been around for more than four years, SECIA did not actively pursue the program before fall of 2009.

Until a couple of years ago HourCar did not allow anyone under 21 to hold membership due to insurance restrictions. That cut out a lot of the student population living in the Como neighborhood.

“It wasnâÄôt going to work unless it was targeted towards students,” Justin Eibenholzl, SECIAâÄôs environmental coordinator, said.

But since the program changed insurance providers, its policy also changed to allow anyone over the age of 18 with a good driving history to sign up for membership.

“WeâÄôre interested in making our program available to the typically aged college undegraduate,” Bineham said.

The feedback SECIA has received from the community about the HourCar has been “very positive,” De Sota said.

Paul Buchanan, co-chairman of Student Neighborhood Liaisons group at the University, said he thinks this program is a good solution for those who donâÄôt want to have a car on campus where parking is a problem.

While the initiative and the footwork of getting the car to the Como neighborhood came from SECIA, all administration of the project will be handled by HourCar. Anyone interested using the service can sign up for a membership through the programâÄôs website. For a monthly payment and an hourly fee for every use, members have access to any car in the system, which they can reserve by phone or online.

There are two payment plans. The Freedom Plan costs $5 a month, $8 per hour and 25 cents per mile, and the Go Plan for $15 a month, $6 per hour and 25 cents per mile.

SECIA and the HourCar are finalizing a promotional code to waive the $50 sign-up fee.

“ItâÄôs a great way for us to thank the neighborhood and encourage people who are interested to join,” Bineham said.

The code will be part of the promotion SECIA is planning once the car is in place and will be available to everyone living in the area.