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Berkeleyan

Hassle-free motoring comes to campus

| 05 March 2003

 

car

Graduate student Frank Flores reflects upon the many beneifts of car sharing while standing next to one of the campus’s two City CarShare vehicles. The program saves him hundreds of dollars each month in car-related expenses.
Noah Berger photo

Americans love their automobiles, so much so that owning one is considered a divine right of citizenship. Given the car’s hallowed status in our culture, it’s hard to imagine someone voluntarily getting rid of theirs.

But that’s exactly what some 100 faculty, staff, and students have done. They joined City CarShare, a nonprofit organization that is partnering with the university to provide the campus community with cars on an as-needed basis, without the burden and expense of ownership. It is the first such partnership on a UC campus.

Owning a car in the Bay Area costs, on average, about $500 a month, according to the California State Automobile Association. This figure includes monthly payments, finance charges, insurance, gas, maintenance, and depreciation, among other factors.

By contrast, City CarShare members pay on average about $65 to $75 per month, says the program’s East Bay director, Daryl Norcott.

“Participants can potentially save thousands of dollars each year,” he says. “And it’s not only cheaper, but also alleviates a lot of headaches associated with car ownership.”

Driving for the wrong reasons
Frank Flores, a graduate student in the College of Environmental Design, can attest to that. Between struggling to find parking places on campus, and dealing with the inevitable tickets, owning a car was becoming a real pain.

“I realized I was using my car for all the wrong reasons,” he explains. “I was always waiting until the last minute to depart for work or school, so used my car to make sure I arrived on time.”

Now Flores uses public transportation or rides his bike to campus. On those occasions when he needs a car, he visits the City CarShare website, reserves a vehicle (often on the same day), then heads over to the parking lot at Dana St. and Durant Ave., where one of the campus’s two cars is stored.

“It was a big decision to get rid of my truck,” says Flores, “but the cost savings and hassle reduction of the car share program made it worthwhile. Plus, when I get back to campus with the car, I know there’s a parking place waiting just for me.”

Participation in the car-share program benefits not only members but the community as well, by reducing traffic and parking congestion and improving air quality, says Norcott.

“Car sharing is ideal for densely populated areas like Berkeley,” he says. “Most folks can get around pretty easily without a car, but may occasionally need one to buy groceries, transport a small group of people, visit a park, or for some other purpose. For those times, a City CarShare vehicle is ready and waiting for them.”

The program is especially effective when used in conjunction with alternative transportation methods, such as BART, AC Transit, bicycles, or walking, says Kira Stoll, a planner with the campus Parking and Transportation Office.

“Many on campus, particularly faculty and staff, have been reluctant to use mass transit to come to work because they’re concerned about not having a car if and when they need it,” she says. “Car sharing solves that dilemma. If employees have a doctor’s appointment or other errand they need to complete in the middle of the day, they can.”

Registering for the program is done online (www.citycarshare.org) and takes about five minutes, says Norcott. Participants must be 21 years of age and have a clean driving history. A one-hour orientation is required before members can use the vehicles.

Once registered and oriented, they receive a fob, a key-chain attachment that gives them access to any City CarShare vehicle. A built-in computer tracks mileage and length of use, and participants are electronically billed each month. Program staff keep the vehicles — late-model “Cyber-green” Volkswagen Beetles — clean and in good repair. Each car has a type of credit card on board that allows members to purchase gas at most stations.

The university is host to two of the program’s 34 PODs (Points of Departure) located throughout the Bay Area. That number includes two others in the City of Berkeley, which gives members increased travel flexibility.

“I needed to get to a remote part of San Francisco one recent evening, but didn’t feel like battling bridge traffic,” recalls Flores, “so I took BART to the 16th and Mission station, where a POD is located, and jumped into my reserved car.”

Membership costs include a $300 deposit (refundable upon departure from the program), a one-time $30 membership fee, and a $10-per-month usage fee (which includes the purchase of gas). Trips cost 37 cents per mile plus $3.50 per hour. Currently, the deposit is being waived for Berkeley students.

While the City CarShare program offers enormous benefits to those who periodically need a vehicle, says Norcott, it does require participants to plan ahead a bit more.

“Not owning a car is a radical shift for many, and adjusting to that is a gradual process,” he says. “But we encourage folks to keep an open mind and give the program a chance. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”