Car-sharing business gets green light in C-U, Campustown

Car-sharing business gets green light in C-U, Campustown

CHAMPAIGN – City council members gave their enthusiastic backing Tuesday night to creation of a car-sharing program in Champaign-Urbana, despite the fact that it could wind up costing the city thousands of dollars if drivers don't use it.

Meeting in study session, Champaign council members voted 8-0 in favor of directing staff to complete an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana, the University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, all of whom will share equally in the costs, and risks, of the car-sharing program.

If all goes as planned, the car sharing program could begin as soon as October, with six cars being available, two in Champaign, two in Urbana and two in Campustown.

Michael La Due, who doesn't own a car, was perhaps the most enthusiastic council supporter, promising he will be a user of the rent-by-the-hour car rental program.

"I think this is really an excellent idea," La Due said. "It was just a matter of time before something like this was proposed and came to town."

Under the proposal, the MTD, acting as the lead agency, would contract with Zipcar, a for-profit car sharing company based in Cambridge, Mass.

Members of the program would have to pay an annual fee, expected to be $35, to participate and would be charged a likely rental fee of $8 an hour or $60 for a full day. Those fees also would cover the cost of gas and insurance.

Users would use an on-line reservation system to reserve a car at the time they want and at a particular location, said Rob Kowalski, Champaign's assistant planning director. An electronic pass given to members would open the vehicles.

"Cars would be placed in designated locations, preferably ones that are highly visible," he said.

Six major cities and 40 university communities are served by Zipcar, including the Big 10 communities of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio.

Zipcar, in its proposal to the local governments, states that it has serviced over 1.5 million reservations, billed 120,000 members and "provided over 5 million miles of trouble-free driving."

The agreement with Zipcar would be for three years and Champaign, Urbana, the UI and MTD would each provide an annual revenue guarantee of $27,000 per year, or $108,000 total. If the six cars failed to generate that much income, which would require that they be used about six hours per day, then the governments and agencies would have to make up the shortfall – with the deficit split evenly among Champaign, Urbana, the university and MTD.

Once the local program logs a number of consecutive months where income exceeds the guarantee, Zipcar would drop the guarantee, and might add additional cars, Kowalski said.

The Champaign council is expected to make a final vote on the proposal next Tuesday.