Age requirement keeps students from utilizing Hourcar

By Zach Selke

Noticed the Toyota Prius that seems to sit in the Patagonia parking lot all the time? Twin Cities car-share program Hourcar thinks this is the next big thing in sustainable transportation. While car sharing seems like the type of thing Macalester students working toward environmental sustainability would jump at, most students are left out of the loop.Hourcar’s requirements include a good driving record and the possession of a driver’s license for at least five years, which essentially creates a minimum driving age of 21. The age requirement limits the program to Macalester seniors and a handful of juniors

“We set the age at 21 because our insurance company required it,” Mary Morse, executive director of Neighborhood Energy Connection, which runs Hourcar, said. “Actuaries know the statistics on youth crashes much better than we do; it’s just very risky for them to insure younger drivers. So we tend to serve people in their low to mid-20s, all the way up to folks in their 70s and beyond.”

Although the Hourcar at the Macalester hub does not appear to be used very much, it is used far more often than an average car in the U.S.

“It’s funny, but the cars-even at full utilization- still appear to be sitting there most of the time, and that’s because people are making a point to look,” Morse said. “However, compared to the average American driver’s daily use of a car, they are quite busy.”

Morse said that full utilization of the Hourcar is between six-and-a-half hours to nine hours per day, while the average daily use of a car is approximately two hours per day.

Car-sharing programs are touted as an integral part of a more sustainable transportation solution. Hourcar says that to access its cars, 14 percent of its members bike, 68 percent walk,and 17 percent use public transportation. Several of the hubs are located along the Hiawatha LRT Line, providing easy access to the public transit network in the Twin Cities.

“Car sharing is a really exciting concept that would not only decrease the Macalester community’s impact on the earth, but it would also help to forge a stronger connection with the larger community around us,” said Molly Brown ’10, a member of MacCARES. “Without that community connection – either here at Macalester or in the other communities we each inhabit – real solutions to a more sustainable way of life will be impossible. It takes this kind of integration and cooperation to change both how we live and how our societies are structured.”

The program works on a membership basis, with several pay-as-you-go and monthly packages. The monthly packages range in price from $38 to $98. Members make reservations over the Internet or telephone for a car, and then use a key fob to access the car. There are over 500 drivers using 16 cars located at 15 different hubs around the Twin Cities. As of January 2008, Hourcar estimated that program use has led to the removal of 120 cars from the road, which amounts to an 850-pound reduction in CO2 output per member. Hourcar estimates that the program has reduced vehicle miles traveled by 175,000 miles saving more than 16,000 gallons of gasoline.

Morse said that Hourcar program could benefit from more student use, especially in light of the fact that the Macalester Hourcar’s usage decreases after August when Macalester is in session.

“We are always looking at ways to serve more members, and lowering the driving age is one of them, but there’s nothing officially in the works right now,” Morse, who is a Macalester alum, said. “Hopefully Mac students would drive only in unusual situations, because the college is well served by transit and has excellent pedestrian and bicycle connections. We need to leave behind our car-centric habits. We’ll be much happier when we do.