Mac signs on to car share program, Prius on order

By Ari Ofsevit

With a new Toyota Prius on order and a spot cleared in the Patagonia lot, car sharing is coming to Macalester.

An official announcement was made by the college Wednesday. Tom Welna ’86, the director of the High Winds Fund, said that the college has worked out the details of providing the capital for a two-year pilot project to host a car on campus. A Prius similar to the one which will be used for the program was displayed on Bateman Plaza yesterday.

Macalester will provide approximately $10,000 each year to pay for the fixed costs of the car. As part of the deal, the car should be on campus this summer, Welna said. The hybrid Prius, which has gained wild popularity as gas prices continue to rise, is back-ordered and will likely arrive around July 1.

The price of oil has soared to record highs, and gas prices are nearing $3.00 per gallon.

While Macalester will sponsor the program, it will be entirely run by Hourcar, a nonprofit car sharing service run by the Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) in St. Paul.

Hourcar currently has more than a dozen Priuses scattered across the Twin Cities, with “hubs” generally near the downtowns, University of Minnesota campuses and the Hiawatha Light Rail Line. Macalester will be the first hub based at a smaller college away from what Hourcar typically considers major population centers.

In addition to Hourcar, Zipcar, a private company headquartered in Boston, has six cars sponsored by the U and available to users there. Zipcar has cars in several cities nationwide, but has no immediate plans to expand beyond the U in the Twin Cities market.

Mary Morse ’82, the Executive Director of the NEC, said that participants in Hourcar would be able to use any of the other cars it owns in the Twin Cities. Hourcar does not operate car sharing in any other city.

“Everyone in the Macalester community, including students, is welcome to join,” Morse said, but “they must meet member qualifications.”

While the car may be a boon for the community and college faculty and staff, students may have trouble signing up for the service. Hourcar requires prospective members to be 21, and have a relatively clean driving record. Prospective members must also have had a driver’s license for five years, a count against students from states where the driving age is over 16.

Still, Welna estimates that the prospective market at Macalester exceeds 1,000 potential customers, excluding residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

Most car sharing operators across the nation have similar age requirements for insurance purposes.

Car sharing operators typically seek areas with high population density that are located near public transit. A stated objective of many car sharing providers is to allow people to use transit and still have a car when they need it, Morse said.

While Macalester’s neighborhood is not as densely populated as most areas with car sharing, several factors make up for this downfall. Macalester is “One block from a very busy bus corner [and] a lot of multifamily units,” Morse said, adding that “the fact that Mac-Groveland people probably have a mindset that would encourage them to live more sustainably.”

“I think it is very exciting,” she said. “These neighborhood cars…could be so convenient for people who want to walk or take the bus to work…I would not have gone ahead with [this location] if I hadn’t thought it was going to be successful.”

Morse said that she hopes users of Hourcar will be able to remove cars from the road.

If the location proves to be financially viable, which would require approximately 30 active members in the area, the costs of will be taken over by Hourcar. If numbers are higher, a second car could be added.

“In the end it may be one of our most successful cars,” Morse said. “It’s an unusual place with the confluence of transit, the good high density of transit and the smart, forward thinking people in the neighborhood.”

Welna said that the prospects for success are good, although there has been no specific market study done. He said that the NEC has “good demographic information about likely members who live in the ZIP code.”

“I suspect that most of the student body is not eligible at this time,” Welna said. “[High Winds] doesn’t fund things for the campus per se; benefits to the campus are secondary and incidental.” The purpose of the office is to create a more livable community around the campus, he said.

Students were somewhat more skeptical of the new car. “I don’t think that any car is environmentally friendly,” Mark Stonehill ’09 said, “but having a Prius on campus will [influence] students to own their car purchases in the future.”

“I don’t know if I agree with the necessity for it,” he said. “I’m glad that it is promoting hybrid cars, but Macalester students get by pretty well using public transportation already.”

Laura Kerr ’07 liked the idea of the car but thought that it could probably be put to better use in different neighborhoods. “What I think about more is issues of access,” she said. “Why would you need a car in a very affluent neighborhood? It seems much more important in areas where there is not as much access to transportation which generally correlates to areas which are less affluent. It tries to address some environmental issues, but it doesn’t address issues of who gets to use these cars.”

More than anything, however, it boils down to economics for the fledgling Hourcar system. Even in cities where car sharing is well established, it is concentrated mainly in affluent areas.

As for Macalester, the exact arrival date for the car is not yet known, but at the latest, it should be in place by the time students return next fall.