- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

Metro is planning to entice more riders to use its subway system by putting them in the drivers seat — of rented cars.

The transit agency plans to partner, on a test basis, with one or two companies that run car-sharing programs, said Rick Stevens, Metro´s director of business planning and development.

Under the program, the companies will rent Acuras, Volkswagen Beetles and other cars to urbanites and suburbanites for a couple of hours to run errands.

It would be the first time a public transit authority has joined the car-sharing trend popular in Europe and in three U.S. cities, where there are about 2,800 members in the programs. Two other cities — San Francisco and Chicago — plan to have similar programs soon.

The companies — Boston-based Zipcar and Seattle-based Flexcar — would place their vehicles at reserved parking spaces at Metro stations or near the stations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. And unlike existing car-sharing programs that focus primarily on urban areas, Metro intends to park some of the cars at suburban stations with parking lots, like the Orange Line Vienna Station in Virginia.

"We want to make it convenient for our customers using the rail system," Mr. Stevens explained, noting that no stations have yet been identified. "It´s to stretch this concept out of the urban area and into the suburban area."

A one- to two-year demonstration of the service is expected to begin in the fall, Mr. Stevens said. Metro would give the companies, for free at first, parking spaces worth about $40 to $65 a month at selected Metro stations.

Neil Peterson, the founder and president of Seattle´s Flexcar, which has been operating for almost two years and has 1,500 members using 45 cars, said "car sharing fills a missing piece in the transportation picture."

And teaming up with Metro, he said, will give subway users another alternative in getting to where they need to go.

"So many people who take Metro say it doesn´t go where they want it to go," he said, but having the cars at or near stations should alleviate that problem.

Metro´s board of directors still must approve the program at its May 17 meeting, Mr Stevens said.

The program could be a boon to subway ridership, which already is topping an average of 600,000 daily trips during the workweek, he said.

The car-sharing program, he said, encourages the use of public transit by making a car available for people who don´t need one for work, but still would like one for running errands.

Robin Chase, the co-founder and president of Zipcar, said Metro´s idea of putting the cars at Metro stations is innovative because most car-sharing programs park cars in the members´ neighborhoods.

She said her company will park cars in the neighborhoods, too, at reserved spots along streets in the District, Arlington County and Alexandria by summer, and at Metro stops in the fall.

There are about 780 members of Zipcar using 42 cars spread throughout the Boston area, Miss Chase said.

Zipcar will roll out about two to three cars a week and put them in reserved places negotiated with the localities. In the District, she would like places by the Red Line´s DuPont Circle station, the Blue and Orange Lines´ Foggy Bottom-George Washington University station, and stations in Arlington County and Alexandria.

People participating in the car-sharing program would apply for membership, which includes insurance and the cost of gas.

For a membership fee of $25 to $300 a year, participants would be allowed to rent the car for hours at a time at an hourly rate of about $4 and a mileage rate of 50 cents to 90 cents a mile. Most people use the car for an average of four hours and 25 miles. The service costs most participants $65 to $140 a month.

"Some people use this as a fractional second car," Miss Chase said, noting that the Washington region, which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, is an ideal spot for car-sharing.

"When you start out, you have very small web and you really want to be near subway stops," Miss Chase said. Once the programs grows, cars are parked in neighborhoods, she said, to bring the cars closer to the people they serve.

Dave Brooke, founder and president of this country´s first car-sharing program — Car Sharing Portland — said most such programs allow members to make reservations over the phone or the Internet. His company began more than three years ago and boasts 500 members sharing 25 vehicles, a minivan and a pick-up truck.

"It´s an alternative to owning a car," Mr. Brooke said, noting the car-sharing program is not meant for people who have to commute to work every day by car. "Those using this don´t need a car every day."

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