A Growing Alternative: Car Sharing in the Twin Cities

By Randy Stern November 14, 2013

Categories: Featured - Home Page, Our Homes, Vehicles & Rides

The New Car Sharing Kids on The Block - All photos by Randy Stern

The New Car Sharing Kids on The Block – All photos by Randy Stern

Not everyone owns a car in the Twin Cities.

What options are available for non-car owners in this area? Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council would be he first answer to this question, operating over a 100 routes by bus, light rail and commuter rail through several agencies across the region. The system may work for most, but not all. There are gaps in service in places and often lack the flexibility of some riders living across the Twin Cities.

If public transportation is the alternative, what is their alternative? What if we actually need a car at ready access to do errands that public transit would prevent us to do?

We are lucky to have several solutions available to us here in the Twin Cities. Car Sharing just happen to be one of them. Since 2005, Twin Cities residents were able to join programs that gave us the opportunities for a temporary car share without having to go through a rental car agency to keep a vehicle longer than needed. Yet, what we found is a split in need between simple errands to full trips out of town within the state or beyond.

However, car sharing is growing. Once there was one provider for this service, it has spawned competition.

HourCar's plug-in Toyota Prius and Toyota Yaris at Mississippi Market, St. Paul

HourCar’s plug-in Toyota Prius and Toyota Yaris at Mississippi Market, St. Paul

HourCar is the first to establish car sharing in the area. The program is as an arm of the Neighborhood Energy Connection – a non-profit organization aimed at providing energy conserving programs to the Twin Cities. Car Sharing fits in this program, as it serves to use efficient vehicles for HourCar’s energy conscious members. Since starting the service in 2005, HourCar has grown to 2000 members with 57 vehicles located at 53 hubs across both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The primary vehicle in HourCar’s fleet remains the Toyota Prius, however they do offer various other hybrids – including plug-in models – and small cars, a MINI Cooper Clubman, a few mid-sized pickup, trucks, a Mazda5 compact minivan and a Honda Element crossover.

While HourCar is growing, Zipcar also made its move from its local base at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus. Recently acquired by the Avis-Budget Group, Zipcar began as a tie-in with the University of Minnesota to expand into key neighborhoods across Minneapolis. Zipcar’s fleet includes compact crossovers, various hatchbacks and hybrids, an Audi and a Mercedes-Benz.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car – formerly known as WeCar – also recently joined in the car sharing fray with hub locations in select parts of Minneapolis, using a mix of the vehicles selected from their parent fleet – mainly Fords and a few other vehicles. They also serve four college campuses in outstate locations, such as Carleton College, St. Olaf College, St John’s University and the College of St. Benedict.

car2go's smart forTwo Pure at the Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis

car2go’s smart forTwo Pure at the Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis

Now there is yet another car sharing service in town. Car2Go is a program run by a unit of Daimler AG. Using only smart forTwos, Car2Go operates by using a mobile app to point subscribers to nearby vehicles. There are no specific hubs for these smarts – rather using unrestricted or extended time legal on-street parking location across Minneapolis. A subscribers needs to do is to locate one on the mobile app, reserve it and do the trip. Instead of changing by the hour, as HourCar and Zipcar do, Car2Go charges by the minute. The Car2Go fleet is growing with a goal of putting 300 vehicles on the streets of Minneapolis with possible expansion into Saint Paul.

Though you might not see them on the street or at certain “hubs,” Hertz also offers car sharing through their 24/7 program. A few Hertz rental locations offer cars to share, but their main push have been through their partnership with Lowe’s home improvement centers through the use of vans and trucks to haul stuff home from shopping there. Hertz 24/7 is charged based on time, with distance limitations, then the final charges are calculated on a trip basis.

With more choices than ever, which one should you subscribe to? It would depend on whether you live in an area that you have access to these vehicles. HourCar and Zipcar operate hubs, which are located off-street at parking lots, whereas Car2Go vehicles could be found anywhere within the Minneapolis city limits. For residents in ior around the University of Minnesota, downtown Minneapolis, Uptown and around Loring Park/Stevens Square, you will find plenty ready access to vehicles to utilize. Key areas of Saint Paul are covered by HourCar, stretching from the University of St. Thomas to Lowertown.

North Minneapolis had to make do with two HourCar hubs in Bryn Mawr and in the North Loop. The advantage of Car2Go is the flexibility of vehicles to be parked for access anywhere within the city limits. With the assistance of their app, you could find a Car2Go vehicle as far north of Victory Memorial Parkway and 44th Avenue North or in the deeper parts of Northeast Minneapolis past the Quarry Shopping Center.

Zipcar's Toyota Prius in Downtown Minneapolis

Zipcar’s Toyota Prius in Downtown Minneapolis

As far as any trip restrictions, both HourCar and ZipCar can allow vehicles to be reserved on a daily rate with mileage cap of 150 miles. Meanwhile, Enterprise raises the ante to 200 miles per rental. With all three services, you are charged a per-mile extra over the given allotment. Car2Go also utilizes a 150-mile cap, but with other car sharing programs, they too charge an extra cost per mile – averaging 38 cents on a per mile basis. However, all of these car sharing services include fuel and full insurance coverage in their cost.

In terms of vehicle security, a card or a fob is required to access one of the HourCar, Zipcar, Enterprise or Car2Go vehicles. Hertz 24/7 truck and van rentals utilize a kiosk at Lowe’s stores and operate the same with a card to swipe for access. Regardless, with card readers and other security measures on board, it is tough for others to gain unlawful access to these vehicles.

Otherwise, car sharing is seen to be more convenient than going to a rental car location. After making your reservation, you simply go to the vehicle – either at a hub or parked on the street – swipe, examine the vehicle, go through pre-start checks and go. With mobile app technology, one could reserve the vehicle while standing next to it.

Would you use a car sharing service to do a trip to Duluth or other locations requiring a significant distance to drive? Before you commit to doing so, do the math between potential car sharing charges for hours or days to be used, along with any mileage charges over the set daily limit. You may want to compare that to potential charges using a traditional rental car agency, including gas and additional charges and taxes.

Enterprise Car Share's Ford Focus in downtown Minneapolis

Enterprise Car Share’s Ford Focus in downtown Minneapolis

To get started, always check their websites for qualifications. There are certain age and driving record restrictions to be considered for membership in HourCar, Zipcar, Car2Go and Enterprise Car Share. They all do checks on your driving record to make sure you fit these qualifications. There is also the matter of a single fee – whether it is called membership or application fee. You only have to pay this once before being a member. HourCar still takes the time to invite you to an orientation to make sure you are familiar with their service, while Zipcar and Car2Go offer online tutorials showing you what to do when reserving and using their vehicles.

In the Twin Cities, we love choices. We also love to play our part in being sustainable and conscious about our environment and community. With as many car share vehicles available across the heart of The Cities, we now have a broader choice for an alternative to traditional of car ownership.

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