Hitting the road on shared wheels

Nanaimo CarShare Co-operative's first car is about to hit the road.

Laurie Kersten

Laurie Kersten

Nanaimo CarShare Cooperative’s first car is about to hit the road.

With vehicle fuel and maintenance costs soaring, sharing a car is one way to save money for people who do not need a car full-time, or two-car families wanting to cut the cost of owning a second vehicle, but still need one from time to time.

Car sharing is not new to Nanaimo. More than 30 people shared two vehicles provided by Vancouver-based Cooperative Auto Network for several years until that organization decided to pull back and focus solely on Vancouver last year. That prompted the formation of Nanaimo CarShare Cooperative in November.

Barbara Johnston, one of Nanaimo CarShare’s three directors, said financial sponsorship to purchase its first car came together in the last few weeks.

The blue 2009 Nissan Versa four-door hatchback was shown off at the Green Solutions Show at Beban Park Social Centre on the weekend.

The vehicle was purchased at Newcastle Nissan for about $10,000. Former Cooperative Auto Network members have switched to Nanaimo CarShare and the group is busy drumming up new members.

Joining a car share is simple. New members purchase a one-time, $500 buy-in share and a $20 registration fee. The share is refundable after six months if car sharing does not meet a member’s needs.

Costs to operate a reserved car are $3 per hour, plus 40 cents per kilometre. Fees cover fuel, maintenance, repairs and insurance.

Paying for occasional use of a vehicle is a lot cheaper than owning one. Costs to run a single vehicle, including maintenance, fuel, insurance, loan and interest payments and depreciation, can tally up to $10,000 annually.

Car share members who travel also have access to vehicles in car co-ops in other cities in Canada and the U.S.

Johnston said Nanaimo CarShare is now tuning up its booking and communications system and the car still needs to be fitted with a lock box, which stores the keys. Everything should be in gear for full operations by mid-April.

“Right now it’s kind of a soft launch,” Johnston said. “We get the members to try it out. We check our system, because it’s online booking and we want to make sure all the glitches and bugs are out of this, so when somebody goes to pick up the car at the time they’ve booked it, everything is set.”

She said the car will be kept downtown.

If membership rises as expected, a second vehicle will be added to the fleet by early fall and located near the bus terminal on Prideaux Street and the E&N Railway station. Cars will be sited in high-density population areas where they can be linked with public transit.

Johnston said the earliest example of a car sharing co-op she found was in Belgium in 1946, but really got rolling in Europe in the 1960s.

Car sharing saves money and can help keep down the number of cars on the road.

“Environmentally, I think everybody understands the advantages of taking cars off the road and really only using them when you need them,” Johnston said.

Thirty people – about the maximum number per vehicle – sharing a car keeps 16 vehicles off the road.

Johnston said housing projects, community group and even businesses and institutions with vehicle fleets that occasionally need extra wheels in busy times are all potential car sharing candidates.

“There’s all kinds of models in the car share world that we can look at and get ideas from,” Johnston said.

Nanaimo CareShare Cooperative’s website at http://nanaimocarshare.ca offers detailed information about car sharing with examples of costs for typical trips.