City may offer car-sharing option to downtown residents

City may offer car-sharing option to downtown residents

One of the benefits to a car-sharing program is that fewer vehicles would be congesting downtown's streets and parking lots. ©

Car-sharing programs have become commonplace in larger cities across the United States, particularly cities that are more reliant on public transportation.

As Grand Rapids grows and downtown parking becomes more of an issue, members of the Parking Commission think it is time to add car-sharing to the city’s growing list of transportation options. Commissioners are currently in talks with WeCar, Enterprise’s car-sharing operation, and with Grand Valley State University about creating a partnership to make the program viable.

“We’ve been looking at car-share programs for several years, but they are typically on a college campus or in cities that have higher residential density and much higher traffic congestion than what we have,” said Pamela Ritsema, managing director of Parking Services. “So it’s been a little difficult to get them interested in Grand Rapids.

“We do have a lot of students downtown and an increasing number of residential units, and the intent is that there is a car that is available at an hourly basis for someone that might not otherwise have a car.”

WeCar is a membership-based car-sharing program. Individuals with a valid driver’s license, credit card and meeting other eligibility requirements can join the program online and then, once approved, may reserve an available car for a period of time. Cars can be rented by the hour, for a full day, over night — even for a weekend or longer period of time. Rates are dependent on the type of car offered, but typically run around $8-$12 per hour.

Cars are parked in specific locations and are only accessible with a member card that is used to gain access to the car and activate the transaction. A gas card also is provided for the driver and is part of the rate. Shared cars are different from rental cars in a number of ways, including easier accessibility, technology-based operations and the way they are maintained.

Unlike a rental car, individuals are responsible for cleaning out the car between uses and making sure they return it in similar condition to how they found it. Members who habitually leave the car in a distasteful state may have their membership revoked. The cars are cleaned and checked every two weeks by WeCar. The company has a blog where members are able to alert WeCar if a car was dirty, needs maintenance or anything else about their experience.

GVSU launched the WeCar share program on its Allendale campus in October, making a Ford Focus and Fusion available to students, faculty and staff. Currently, the program has five members, but according to Kip Smalligan, strategic sourcing specialist for GVSU’s procurement services, membership is expected to rise once marketing for the program begins in earnest on campus.

Car-sharing programs have thrived on other college campuses and GVSU expects its campus will be able to sustain the program, as well. A partnership with the city would allow the school to expand the program to its downtown campus.

“We have worked with Enterprise Rent-a-Car for our motor pool for several years,” Smalligan said. “They came to us to introduce their car-sharing product, and there were other schools starting to do that, as well. It looked like a good fit for what we are trying to do on campus, specifically making it user friendly for people not bringing vehicles to campus. It’s another option for making it easier for people to not have to bring a vehicle — and anything that we can do in that regard does contribute to our sustainability efforts, to really integrate sustainability into our entire campus operations.”

Parking Services also sees car-sharing as a way to help it become more sustainable and possibly reduce its own motor pool, become more efficient and save money.

It also will benefit residents of downtown who don’t own a car or who would like to get rid of an extra vehicle.

Though Grand Rapids is viewed as a good fit for the WeCar program, a partnership between the city and GVSU is expected to help ensure the program’s success downtown. Both parties expect the partnership will come to fruition.

Additionally, the 99 Monroe building has an agreement to co-sponsor and provide a parking space in its surface lot for the car-sharing vehicle. That agreement came out of lease modification talks it was engaged in with the city.

“WeCar’s goal is to have 40 members per car,” said Smalligan. “That is their critical mass of what they think is enough members to support the car.”

Approval from City Commission is the next step to bringing WeCar to Grand Rapids, and if all goes well, the first car could be available as early as January.

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