Twin Cities Hourcar hopes for fair share in Minneapolis

  • Article by: BRIAN AROLA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2013 - 11:46 PM

Under pressure, the city is reconsidering a decision to go with a German company for an on-street car-sharing pilot program.

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An HOURCAR that Tome Altenhoff had reserved in 2010 was parked in a lot off Nicollet Avenue, near downtown, reflected in the car's window.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis’ decision to go with a non-local company for an on-street car-sharing program has ignited a truckload of controversy, prompting the city to reconsider it.

Hourcar and Zipcar currently offer car sharing in Minneapolis, but a key City Council committee Tuesday approved staff recommendations to contract German-owned company Car2Go for a two-year pilot project.

Car2Go hasn’t previously operated in Minneapolis, but has in San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Car-sharing programs offer memberships where users can rent cars for mostly short trips as an alternative to ownership.

Disappointed with the decision, Twin Cities-based Hourcar urged its users to write to council members and Mayor R.T. Rybak expressing their frustration.

As the backlash unfolded, committee staff members sent an e-mail Thursday to City Council members and Rybak asking that the decision be sent back to committee for more consideration.

Rybak posted a blog entry in favor of the decision Thursday, citing the large fleet of vehicles Car2Go can provide. Car2Go’s proposal includes bringing in 250 Smart cars, while Hourcar’s fleet of mostly Priuses is expanding to 70 at most.

John Stiles, the mayor’s communications director, said Car2Go’s proposal will be able to better meet the demand for car sharing in the city.

“The mayor believes that we need to go big,” he said. “We’ve done this incrementally for a number of years and it’s not meeting demand.”

The e-mail from staff members on the Transportation and Public Works Committee to city officials said the exact demand for car sharing is unknown at this point, and if it’s sent back to committee the staff would have more time to determine that.

Passing over Hourcar, which is a local nonprofit, drew sharp criticism on social media. Along with unhappy Hourcar users posting on Facebook, City Council Member Gary Schiff tweeted that the proposal should be sent back to committee.

Hourcar Program Manager Christopher Bineham said the company is disappointed because it went to the city years ago to try get on-street car sharing, and the city put the rights to do so up for bid instead.

“From us, it’s a sense that this decision, if it is carried through, would be really unfair and shortsighted,” he said.

Schiff said it would have been far easier to work with Hourcar to facilitate its hope for on-street spots than opening up a more extensive bidding process. He said he’s frustrated with the city’s slow response to Hourcar’s requests.

“Hourcar asked for help and all they got was an open door to their competition,” he said. “I think the whole process is puzzling.”

Bineham said Hourcar, which serves 2,000 members in the Twin Cities, isn’t opposed to Car2Go coming in, but hopes more than one company is allowed to buy up on-street car sharing space. Because the two companies differ in the size of their vehicles and types of trips they’re ideal for, they could complement each other to better serve the city’s needs, he said.

Most of Hourcar’s trips are round trip, while Car2Go’s model is more similar to the city’s Nice Ride bike share system where one-way trips are more common.

Stiles said Car2Go’s service model was another reason it was preferred over other options, and the recommendation by Public Works staff was data-driven.

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