June 19, 2009

Transportation Flexibility

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Rick at StlRising posed a question today about the WeCar Prius that he can see from his downtown office window.

Does anybody know about the program? How do you get in on it? Could I ditch my car, ride Metro downtown, and then have the We Car available for trips during the day out of the office?

WeCar courtesy of <a href=WeCar is an interesting program. Lots of cities have flex-car programs; St. Louis’s is run by home-town Enterprise.  The essential idea is that you apply to become a member and, once a member, you can reserve the WeCar for specific periods of time and use as needed.

Flexcars are great for people who are trying to be car-independent but want a little more flexibility and/or range than public transit can offer, even when there’s no friend to hitch a ride with. What I hear most is that people who are car-free by choice and who rely on transit find the added flexibility gives them the extra freedom they need in situations that might otherwise tip them towards going ahead and getting a junky, “just in case” car – and wasting all that money on insurance and maintenance for a car that is mostly parked. I think it’s also a great idea for businesses who don’t want to maintain pool cars but need employee transportation from time to time.  (More on those ideas at TreeHugger.) Details on St. Louis’s program after the jump.

If you look at the website linked above, that’s the national program and it explains the ins and outs of how the program works – how to get gas, how to make a reservation, the rules, etc. I actually had to call the customer service number to find out that there’s a different URL for the local St. Louis program (wecar.com/stl, which actually redirects to here), and that’s where you find the application for membership. Membership requirements include:

  • 21 years old*
  • Valid Drivers’ License
  • Valid Credit Card

*Interestingly, the rules differ for those 18-21 years old. If you fall into that category, you have to be a college student at a member college. In St. Louis, the only member college, according to the customer service rep I called, is Washington University. Students at WashU can become members but have a few extra hoops to jump through.

The program, from the outside, looks great. There’s a $35 annual fee to become a member, and once a member, you only pay per hour of usage ($10/hr currently; $30 flat fee for the time between 6pm and 8am). Insurance and gas are included. I have no experience with this particular flexcar program, but I know the one in Portland was used with great success by many of my friends while we were car-free and in school – it came in very handy for Saturday hiking trips especially.

So what do you guys think – would you consider joining? Have you had any experiences with a flexcar program? If you joined, how do you think you might use them? Let us know what you think in the comments, and if anyone becomes a member, let me know how it goes.

6 thoughts on “Transportation Flexibility”

  1. Courtney says:

    I have been a WeCar member since its inception a few years ago, and am a really big fan. There is a car one block from the MetroLink 8th and Pine stop, and I’ve taken it to doctor’s appointments in Midtown, to buy fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes at Vivianos on the Hill, and to visit my mom in Illinois. I just carry a key fob on my keychain, reserve a car online, and it is automatically charged to my credit card. And if I have to fill up the gas tank (not often, its a Prius of course), the program charges me less money per hour. I highly recommend the program. It would be great to see some WeCars in downtown Clayton.

  2. Melissa says:

    I’m also a WeCar member, and I love it! I take it when I need to run to a meeting and don’t have a lot of time available for travel, like to a middle school for tutoring or, once, to meet with a state senator at MoKaBe’s. If only I could consistently remember how to turn the Prius on. It’s always disconcerting to press a power button, rather than turning a good ole-fashioned key…

    Interestingly enough, because the administration at Wash U is counting on WeCar usage as part of its sustainability plan and goals to eliminate the need for parking, they have really embraced the program out there. There are special rates available for Wash U students, which are worth checking out (if you are a student). The Community Service Office also reimburses students for WeCar travel to community service sites, which saves them from having to maintain a Community Service car. It’s a great program to have, and really exciting from a transit nerd’s perspective.

  3. Tom says:

    I am 61 years old and probably don’t fit the WeCar demographic. I have been a members since day 1 and really find it a great supplement to MetroLink and has enabled me to get down to a single car, saving about $8,000 per year. I have even taken WeCar on day trips because the $60 daily rate including gas, is often cheaper than reimbursement for a trip to say Columbia and back. I use it mostly for those kinds of trips or to meetings at places MetroLink doesn’t yet serve.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Another happy WeCar member here.

  5. It’s great to hear that students and downtown commuters are using WeCar, but I think the program really needs to be targeted at poor communities. People living in poverty often have few transportation options and cannot afford personal cars. Perhaps WeCar could implement a discount program aimed at people living below the poverty level in St Louis. $10 / hour is a steep price for someone earning minimum wage.

  6. Peter says:

    I’ve never heard of this kind of thing before. I might have to try it out!

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