- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

Metro officials want to expand a car-sharing program that encourages residents to use their vehicles less and reduce the region’s notorious gridlock.

The agency’s planning committee yesterday recommended a year extension for the short-term rental program, and also voted to increase the fleet from 48 to 84 vehicles.

Metro’s board of directors will consider the recommendation when it votes June 19 on the 12-month contract extension.

The committee also asked Metro officials for a plan for installing electronic kiosks in each of its 84 rail station to inform Metro riders about car-sharing and other programs.

The rental program with Seattle-based Flexcar began in fall 2001 as a one-year contract, which was extended last fall.

Flexcar’s vehicles can be picked up at or near rail stations. The program has about 2,200 members who call to reserve the vehicles, then enter a code on the door to enter and drive the light trucks and hybrid four-door cars.

An on-board computer records the mileage and time of use for billing purposes. Users are charged $25 to join, an $8-an-hour rental fee, and 35 cents a mile after the first 10 miles. Frequent-user plans include $35 for five hours and 50 miles; $65 for 10 hours and 100 miles; and $150 for 25 hours and 250 miles. Insurance and repairs are paid for by Flexcar.

SmarTrip technology should be added to vehicles in the next few months so Metro customers can use the same card they use for riding the train or bus. Flexcar customers use a vehicle about 3.5 hours per rental, according to Metro.

“It’s just another way for people to get around the region,” said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. “It’s a good reason for a family that has one car to keep it at one car. It’s also an opportunity for a family with three cars to down-size.”

The hybrids have license plates that allow customers driving in Virginia without a passenger to use the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes during rush hour.

Many of the car-sharing members are in District neighborhoods not within walking distance of a Metro rail station, such as Georgetown, Logan Circle and Mount Pleasant. Mrs. Farbstein said Metro’s contract with Flexcar requires company officials to put vehicles in all neighborhoods “regardless of income.”

“Right now they are finding out which neighborhoods are profitable,” she said. “But there has to be equal access.”

According to Metro, 72 percent of the car-sharing program members do not own a car and about a third have sold or considered selling their vehicles.

Dupont Circle resident Alexandra MacKie, 24, said she sold her car to avoid a “nightmare” parking situation in the city and to save money.

Miss MacKie said she uses the service about twice a month, usually to travel from a Metro rail station in the suburbs to a friend’s house. In the city, Miss MacKie used public transportation or her bicycle.

Also yesterday, Metro said construction of large, stainless steel and glass escalator canopies should be completed by next month at four rail stations — Medical Center, Virginia Square and at the Brookland west and L’Enfant Plaza’s north entrances.

Metro allocated $27.2 million to install canopies at 30 rail stations in April 2000. Officials said installing the first four will help them troubleshoot the process before going ahead with the remaining 26.

The majority of the canopies are scheduled to be installed throughout 2004. Metro officials hope the canopies will be a “distinguishing mark” of the transportation system, besides protecting escalators from the elements. Metro has set aside $22 million over two years for escalator repairs once the canopies are done.

Metro officials also said yesterday the six-level parking garage at the Franconia-Springfield rail station is scheduled to be completed by September. The new garage will add about 1,000 spaces to the existing 1,400, which are usually filled up during the week by 8 a.m.

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