Hourcar adds a location near the St. Paul campus

There are 11 Toyota Prius hybrid cars in Hourcar’s fleet, but it plans to expand.

Kevin McCahill

It’s no secret the cost of gasoline has caused some to clutch tightly their pocketbooks, but a program started this summer is aiming to reduce that cost.

Hourcar, a car-sharing service, has opened its fifth location in the Twin Cities, near the University’s St. Paul campus. There is no word on any students currently using the service, but officials are hopeful the program will grow.

To join Hourcar, applicants must pay a $50 fee, and then can choose from a variety of driving options. Drivers can pay $5 to $98 a month depending on how often they plan to travel.

The by-the-hour car system began in San Francisco, and is used in Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia – among other major cities.

According to Mary Morse, director of the St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium, which is leading the Hourcar charge, 78,000 Americans are now car-sharing, up from 10,000 two years ago.

Hourcar in Minneapolis began in June and has 74 members. There are 11 cars in Hourcar’s fleet; two more will be added in October.

Drivers need to have had a driver’s license for five years and a willingness to help the environment.

“Car-sharing is saving people money, reducing pollution and conserving fuel,” she said.

The vehicle used, a Toyota Prius, is an electric-gas hybrid rated at 55 miles per gallon. Cars are parked at multiple locations in the Uptown area, downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Northeast and the newest hub, on Como Avenue near the St. Paul campus.

Morse said Hourcar will enable people to live without depending on owning a car.

“This makes it possible to sell a car or not buy a car,” Morse said. “This helps to have the mobility when you need it but not have to pay for it 24/7.”

David Levinson, professor of civil engineering, said the $275,000 government grant for the program isn’t right.

“Why should people who pay for the cost of a car pay the cost for someone who doesn’t have one,” he said.

He also doesn’t see it making a large difference in the amount of congestion. At the size of the current program, not much congestion is reduced, but if the Hourcar fleet were to grow into the hundreds, with thousands of users, it might make a noticeable difference, he said.

For University students, Morse said the Hourcar program would be a benefit.

“A car is the biggest expense you have after housing,” she said. “For students or recent graduates, the last thing you want to do is spend disposable income on car ownership. We really feel this is an affordability issue.”

The company covers insurance, unless the driver is at fault, in which case, he or she will pay a $500 fee.

Janne Flisrand, 34, who has lived in Minneapolis for nine years without owning a car, enjoys the Hourcar system.

“It’s really a smooth system and it’s really convenient,” she said. “I think it’s the coolest thing ever.”

Flisrand said having someone else clean and do maintenance on the vehicles was a selling point for her.

So far, Morse said, there haven’t been any major accidents with the vehicles.

Morse wants to see Hourcar expand to the Dinkytown area, along University Avenue and at every light rail stop.