One hundred matching electric vehicles are rolling into the Twin Cities as part of a new car-sharing program that officials say is the first in the country powered entirely by renewable energy.
The white-and-green Chevy Bolts have been leased by the city of St. Paul, which teamed up with Minneapolis, the nonprofit Hourcar and Xcel Energy to launch the $12 million project.
As part of the venture, 70 electric vehicle charging stations will be installed across the Twin Cities.
Unlike the handful of electric car-sharing programs in other cities that require drivers to dock vehicles at charging spots, the Twin Cities' Evie Carshare will allow users to end their rides by parking on the street anywhere within a 35-mile designated "home area" stretching from north Minneapolis to the East Side of St. Paul.
The program will be the Twin Cities' first one-way car-sharing service since Car2Go pulled its Smart cars in 2016 after complaining Minnesota's rental car taxes were too high.
"The service territory for the new program isn't going to be the entire city, but a much broader part of the city with a real focus on serving more of our lower-income communities and communities of color," said Russ Stark, St. Paul's chief resilience officer.
An Hourcar team will monitor and move vehicles to make sure they are charged and evenly dispersed in the cities. Stark said drivers will earn Hourcar credits if they return cars to charging stations.
To sign up for the service through Hourcar, drivers must be at least 18 years olf and have had a valid driver's license for at least a year. In addition, they can't have any major traffic violations for the past three years or drug- or alcohol-related violations in the past seven years.
Approval of an Hourcar application can take one or two business days, CEO Paul Schroeder said.
"We are trying to make clean transportation options more equitably accessible for all residents of the Twin Cities," he said.
Once registered, drivers can use Hourcar's app, website or hotline to search for nearby available Evie cars. They can use the app or a Metro Transit Go-To Card to start and end a trip, which is billed by the minute. Additional discounts are available for hourlong or daylong trips..
Rates vary from 18 to 30 cents per minute based on a user's membership plan. Stark said the program was designed to be "revenue neutral," making just enough to cover the costs of electricity and the maintenance of equipment.
The Evie fleet is expected to grow to 171 this year. By fall, the Twin Cities expect to grow their number of public charging ports by 50% as more of their EV Spot Network comes online.
Those 70 spots will each have four on-street spaces to charge four vehicles: two reserved for Evies and two for privately owned electric vehicles. Five of the new stations opened Wednesday in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"A car-sharing company can be an immediate anchor tenant for cities that are looking to build out EV infrastructure," Schroeder said. "What we want to do is jumpstart the adoption of these vehicles by folks who are looking to purchase them, as well as making them available for folks who are not looking to purchase a car right now."
Most of the ports will be set up for level 2 charging, though a handful will be equipped with the quicker DC fast chargers.
Funding for the program came from federal and regional grants, philanthropy and both cities.