Car-share co-ops

🕔Jun 02, 2010

“We finally get this show on the road.”

GO2 Carshare Cooperative coordinator Kim Struthers addresses roughly 20 people gathered at One Sky in Smithers for the launch of its new car-share co-op. Parked on the street outside the sustainable-living institute’s downtown Smithers office is the “show”—a shiny blue Toyota Prius hybrid.

Officially launched in April, the GO2 Carshare Cooperative is the first of its kind in northern BC. “Basically, the less you drive the lower your expenses are going to be,” Struthers say about the program, which strives to keep fewer cars on the road while keeping drivers’ costs down. “If you only use your car a few days a week it could be cheaper for you to belong to a co-op.”

One Sky decided to launch a car-share program when it discovered Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program, which funds projects that inspire people to make lifestyle changes benefiting the environment. The program is funding two years of administrative costs.

A membership with the car-share is $500, which makes you a voting member in the program. Monthly administration fees run between $5 and $35, depending on use, and between 25 and 40 cents a kilometre plus $1.50 an hour. There’s also the option of a $60 day-rate, where the user also pays for gas.

With the Prius running about 700 kilometres on a $40 fill-up, part-time car ownership could be significantly cheaper for occasional drivers.

“I think that’s one of the things about car ownership, that the costs are really diffused and spread out,” says Struthers, who points to costs like car payments, gas, maintenance and insurance. The Canadian Automobile Association puts the annual cost of owning a vehicle at about $10,000. “If you added it up and each month and that lump sum came out of your account, I think most people would be surprised.”

With GO2, the per-kilometre cost also includes the gas: No filling, washing or maintenance—just drop it off when you’re done.

A truck for rural drivers
According to Struthers, a rural co-op car can accommodate eight members before another vehicle needs to be added to the fleet. In a community where fieldwork and firewood gathering are frequent tasks, excited mutters rise in the One Sky office when Struthers suggests the possibility of adding a truck.

“Not many people need a truck every day, but there may be a few days a month they need access to it,” she says. “We will hopefully be adding one within six months.”

Telkwa resident Brenda Black is not only a founding board member with the co-op, she was also one of the first to use the shiny new Prius.

“I moved to Telkwa because of the bus system,” says Black, who has mainly relied on public transit and her bike in the three years she’s lived in the Bulkely Valley. When Struthers approached her about being on the car-share board, she says with a laugh, “I wrote back and said, ‘I’ll do it if I can be on the board but not come to meetings, because I don’t have a car.” Struthers assured her she would make sure she got home after meetings.

Working in Smithers, Black buses between the two communities daily. On days when she uses the co-op car, she buses to the One Sky office, picks up the car—running errands like picking up dog food, groceries and other large items—then buses home to Telkwa after dropping the car off.

“It’s awesome. I think you really have to have the lifestyle that allows it to happen, but I love it,” she says about being car-free. “You walk so much more, you get so much more exercise. I love it and it’s totally do-able. I’ve been doing it for three years.”

Black adds that she has seen a “significant” cost savings between the car-share and owning her last car, which frequently broke down: “I had to get a small loan for that vehicle and then pay car insurance.” In the two times she’s taken the Prius, she’s paid $55—a bargain, considering the new vehicle comes with the peace of mind that it won’t leave her stranded.

Vehicle variety
Not all car-shares offer members something as fancy as the Prius. “It really depends. The urban car-shares in places like Vancouver and Victoria have a lot of hybrids,” Struthers says. “Nelson is at the total opposite end of the spectrum. They’re quite proud of the fact they have a fleet of ‘beaters,’ as they call them.”

Although the Nelson car-share has vehicles in Fernie, Kimberley, Kaslo and Revelstoke, the GO2 car-share is by far BC’s most northern car co-op. Terrace resident Tara Irwin, who has a background in transportation planning and worked with the Cooperative Auto Network in Vancouver, says the idea has been thrown around in the community, but no firm plans have been laid.

“My feeling is there would be a positive response, just because of the conversations I’ve had,” Irwin says. “I think where the need would be in Terrace, would be the family with one car and every once in a while they need to use a truck or an extra car.”

Irwin speculates that while oil prices rise, people are increasingly less inclined toward acquiring material items. Where these two ideas meet points directly to co-operatives: downsizing, simplifying and collaborating.
In Vancouver, Irwin lived across the street from the car co-op and used its vehicles to move, get groceries, or attend meetings across the city. She paid about $120 a month—much less than the average car payment.

She says making a car-share work depends on existing public transit and cycling routes, with convenient access to the fleet being paramount: “People will only walk so far to get a bike or get a car,” she says. She suggests Prince Rupert—a compact community with good transit—would be an ideal location.

“We have so many people move up from the city that are used to taking transit and used to riding their bikes nine or 10 months of the year, they’re really open to these ideas,” she says. “If it could help five families move from three cars to two, or from two cars to one—great.”

The co-op model would likely look different in the North than in southern urban areas. For starters, it might be used more frequently for longer highway trips rather than cross-town travel. The Prius was chosen with highway driving in mind and has already been to Terrace, Fort St. John and Houston.

At $60 a day plus gas, using the car-share is also less expensive than renting. As well, a reciprocal agreement with co-ops in Vancouver and Victoria allows Bulkley Valley-based car-share members to borrow vehicles when they’re down south.

In the case of an accident, a $500 deductible is the driver’s responsibility and the car-share absorbs any insurance increases. Reckless drivers take note: a driver’s abstract is required to obtain a membership, and there’s a clause within the co-op that memberships can be terminated through a member vote.

“We ask our members to treat the vehicle like it’s their own,” Struthers says. “And in some ways it is.”