Baltimore to launch nonprofit car-share service


November 29, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,

Baltimore officials are preparing to launch a nonprofit car-sharing service, hoping that the initiative will reduce the overall number of cars used in the city.

The idea is to create a service similar to that provided by the for-profit firm ZipCar, which allows subscribers to reserve a car via a Web site for a short time. Subscribers pay a monthly fee for the service, in addition to a per-mile or per-hour usage fee.

Under Baltimore's plan, members would have an electronic key card that would grant access to a vehicle during the reservation period. Members would have to return the car to a designated space. The city's nonprofit - which will be called BaltimoreCarShare - would be responsible for car insurance and maintenance.

Availability of the service could persuade some city families to give up a second car, said Peter E. Little, executive director of the city's parking authority.

He expects a test version of the program to be running by January or February and, if all goes well, he wants to open the service to the public by the end of March. Little said he is selecting an executive director for the nonprofit, setting up a Web site and leasing a fleet of cars.

Neighborhood leaders from Federal Hill, Hampden and Canton have expressed interest in hosting vehicles in the initial phase of the program, he said, and he hopes to ultimately expand it across the city.

In 2006, Little had hoped that ZipCar or Flexcar - then the country's two largest car-sharing companies - would expand in Baltimore. Flexcar initially showed interest, but when the two firms merged last fall, the resulting company decided not to commit more cars to Baltimore. ZipCar, the merged company, still has a handful of vehicles at the Johns Hopkins University.

Looking for other options, Little learned about a nonprofit car-sharing model in Philadelphia called PhillyCarShare, which has 400 vehicles and about 50,000 members. That program has become the basis for his plans here.

PhillyCarShare co-founder Tanya Seaman, who is consulting for Baltimore's program, said that many PhillyCarShare members gave up their personal cars. And those members are driving less, she said. "They change how they get around," she said.

Baltimore's organization will be called BaltimoreCarShare, and it has received $60,000 from the city, Little said. Private and public grants are being pursued.

It will take some people time to get comfortable with the idea. City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, who is on the board of directors of the city's Parking Authority, said that he supports the idea but probably would not use the service until he was sure all of the kinks were ironed out.

"When I need to jump in a car, I jump in a car," Young said.

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