Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may soon expand testing to see whether the flourishing car-sharing economy works for travelers and employees alike.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the airport, is expected to consider an 18-month pilot program using three car-sharing companies — Car2Go, Zipcar and Hourcar. Mostly used by auto-averse millennials and urbanites, car-sharing involves drivers booking vehicles on demand via the Internet or a smartphone app, usually for short periods of time.
If approved by MAC commissioners in November, the expanded car-sharing service at the airport could begin by the end of the year.
“I’m excited to see if it works,” said MAC Chair Dan Boivin. “Nowadays, not everybody owns cars, young millennials are more committed to public transportation and Car2Go scenarios. We need to figure out what makes sense economically.”
If adopted, the airport would have a variety of transportation options for the 33 million passengers it serves annually — ranging from Blue Line light rail to taxis and limousines to those who drive there and park. In recent years, parking at the airport has become increasingly tight.
The pilot program would be different from often-controversial ride-sharing services UberX and Lyft, where passengers book rides from drivers who use their private cars for commercial use. Currently, UberX and Lyft do not have holding areas at the airport, like taxis do.
The use of car alternatives appears to be growing nationally. A recent survey by the consulting firm PwC indicates that 44 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of the “sharing economy,” which also includes the hospitality (such as Airbnb) and retail businesses, among others. Of those consumers, 8 percent actively engage in the “mobility industry,” which can involve sharing a car, or bicycles such as Nice Ride-type programs.
‘I’m being open minded’
The pilot program will help the MAC determine whether there’s demand for car-sharing and, if so, how to make it work.
“I’m being open minded,” said Atif Saeed, assistant director of airport operations/landside. “I think it could add to the existing portfolio of transportation options and offer better customer service. Ultimately, the data will tell us whether it will work.”
He said car-sharing options could be used by the airport’s 20,000 employees in addition to travelers.
Each company would be granted five spaces near the light-rail station at Terminal 2 (Humphrey), paying $7,665 a space for the duration of the program.
Both Zipcar and Hourcar operate from hubs, where drivers begin and end their trips. Car2Go users drive the distinctive Smart cars to their destinations within an approved geographic area and leave them there (assuming the parking spot is legal).
Airports nationwide differ in terms of what car-sharing option is offered — if any. Zipcar, which is owned by car-rental giant Avis Budget Group, operates at more than 50 airports worldwide. It launched service at MSP in April 2014 at Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) with two cars and is now offering five cars, according to spokeswoman Katelyn Chesley.
“In terms of demographics, many consider Zipcar to be a millennial brand, but our users range from [ages] 18 to 93,” Chesley said. “Our members tend to be urbanites who need wheels in the city but don’t want to deal with the costs and hassles of car ownership.”
When asked the difference between renting a car and using Zipcar, Chesley noted that the latter is an on-demand service. “You can make a reservation, walk right up to the car and go, giving you the freedom and flexibility to go where you want, when you want. There’s no need to wait in line and fill out paperwork.”
In contrast, she said “rental cars are great for long, multiday trips and serve a different need than car-sharing.”
‘Watching to see’
Hourcar is run by the Neighborhood Energy Connection, a St. Paul nonprofit group. Operations manager Megan Hansen said last week that Hourcar is “watching to see how [the MSP proposal] develops, but we aren’t involved enough to comment at this point.”
Meanwhile, since launching in 2013, Car2Go has gained some 24,000 members in the Twin Cities and operates 535 vehicles. Saeed said the pilot program at the airport was prompted by a request from Car2Go.
Car2Go spokesman Bradley Ducey said that the service is located at other airports but that business models vary.
Ride-sharing services such as UberX and Lyft have drawn harsh rebuke from the taxi industry. But Steve Pint, president and CEO of Taxi Services Inc. in New Hope, said car-sharing enthusiasts are “probably a very different customer.” (Taxi Services owns Yellow Cab, Town Taxi and Airport Taxi.)
The MAC charges taxi companies or drivers an annual permit fee of $3,175 per cab. Part of that fee is used to maintain the airport’s infrastructure, Pint said. He noted that it would be fair to levy similar charges to car-sharing firms, as well.
More than 700 taxis from various companies operate out of the airport.
For those who prefer to drive to the airport and park, the MAC plans to add a 5,000-space, $293 million ramp to the east of current parking facilities at Terminal 1 in the next few years. A 1,400-space Quick Ride Ramp, also at Terminal 1, opened last March.