For more than 15 years, a local nonprofit called Hourcar has worked to make cars available and affordable to residents of the Twin Cities and Rochester, so anyone who needs to drive doesn’t have to pay hundreds. , even thousands, to buy theirs.
It works by having 50 vehicles — most of which are Honda Fit sedans, though they have some trucks and SUVs — parked in parking lots and ramps in Minneapolis and St. Paul, ready to go when a member unlocks them. with his phone or Metro Transit. Go-To card.
“We wanted people to be able to live well in our mid-sized cities without the burden of owning a car,” said Mary Morse Marti, who helped create the program when she was executive director of St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Center.
“We wanted to create wealth for households, especially for people who worked for low-wage employers. We wanted the streets to be safer and the air cleaner. And we wanted to create more customers for our growing transit system,” Marti said.
This concept, expanded by the Internet, relied on an informal model employed by neighbors getting together to buy their own cars to share, keeping tabs on who was using it in a paper notebook. “The internet made dispersed car sharing possible on a large scale. Everyone could ‘see’ the cars and make reservations online,” Marti said.
The program was developed with the City of St. Paul in its efforts to increase access to electric vehicles and chargers in low-income communities of color. They have also started partnering with the managers of certain apartment complexes to stage vehicles that can be rented whenever their residents need them.
Hourcar has helped users like Minneapolis resident Patrick Sharkey decide to get rid of his car. Sharkey and his partner had previously purchased two e-bikes late last year and realized they hadn’t used their car since moving to Minneapolis from the suburbs in 2013.
“We would use the car maybe once or twice a week just for longer trips, and we have a family cabin up north where we like to go, so we kind of justified it for that,” said Sharkey. “But it’s like we could save about $450 a month to get rid of a car that would really sit in our garage most of the time.”
Indeed, being a member of Hourcar is cheaper than owning your own car, let alone renting one from a rental agency. Memberships cost between $0 and $30. People earning 50% of the region’s median income or less – $52,450 for a family of four – can get monthly subscriptions for one dollar through their Access Plus program, launched last November.
All plans include gas, insurance, and the ability to rent any of their vehicles, including their Subarus, which come with parking passes for Minnesota state parks up to 72 hours for a separate fee which, excluding Access Plus membership, gets cheaper the more one pays for membership.
It is unclear how Hourcar can afford it and if it has been made more difficult due to the pandemic. For 2019, the most recent information filed with the Internal Revenue Service was available, they generated just over $1 million in revenue, 60% of which came from user and membership fees.
But Hourcar says making a profit isn’t what they ultimately want to achieve. “We’re looking to provide access, rather than extract resources, from the community,” said lead planner Shannon Crabtree, explaining that they’re able to keep rates low because they don’t operate like travel agencies. car rental who tend to buy as many cars as possible. they can rent them and then resell them as soon as they can.
To use an Hourcar, you must be a licensed member: be at least 18 years old, have been driving with at least a provisional license for at least one year, not have committed major offenses such as driving recklessly or without valid license within the past three years, and has not committed any drug or alcohol violations within the past seven years.
Who else uses the program, and who benefits from it, is unclear. Hourcar recently conducted a voluntary census; about half of the members who responded to the survey identified as white, and about 42% of the users who responded earned less than $50,000 per year.
Hourcar recognizes that access to the service is a problem. The vehicles are not configured for a person unable to use their legs to drive, for example. People who do not understand English may not be able to use Hourcar as it is not accessible in any language other than English.
Cars can also be far from accessible. Hourcars can be found throughout downtown, south, and southeast Minneapolis, as well as downtown St. Paul, Midway, and Rondo. But neither the Hourcars nor their fleets of electric cars are deep in north Minneapolis or the east side of St. Paul, where blacks, Asians and low-income households make up the majority of the population.
Hourcar says it’s because these neighborhoods have more space for cars than for transit service. “Carsharing only really succeeds in denser areas that offer a variety of transit options for connectivity,” Crabtree said.
“Many of the neighborhoods mentioned in your question [North Minneapolis, Eastside St. Paul, St. Paul’s North End, or far South Minneapolis] are heavily car-centric with a higher number of car owners per household, largely made up of single-family households, and often offering one to two off-street parking spaces for each residence.
“We know that public transport does not go everywhere. Walking long distances is not feasible for most people, and ride-sharing services get expensive quickly,” Crabtree added.
People might also struggle with the concept of car rental. “Owning a car is often seen as a bigger part of the American dream, so I think a lot of people would rather own a car than rely on other modes,” Crabtree said.
“We are interested in changing mentalities and habits, and we know it is difficult. However, we also know that owning a car is out of reach for many people, and furthermore less desirable for others.
Disclosure: The author is a member of HourCar and has used the service to cover assignments for the spokesperson-recorder.