Monday, October 29, 2007

Props for Car Share

In the Inqy:

In the five years since that meeting, the nonprofit they founded has grown from a spindly legged foal of an idea to a racehorse of a business, generating $10 million a year. The revenue pays for a small staff, the purchase and maintenance of the fleet, expansion and, when possible, a reduction in rates.

This month, the 30,000th member signed on, making Philly CarShare one of the most successful, fastest-growing programs of its kind in this country.

The five founders did it by digging into their own savings. They applied for a grant, flew to California to see how San Francisco ran its program, wrote up a membership contract, installed a software program, leased a Prius and a Toyota station wagon, and - on Nov. 7, 2002 - opened for business.


Word spread. After the first year, there were 570 members and 13 cars. They negotiated with community associations, the city and businesses, and either rented or were given designated parking where the cars could "live." The Union League, Whole Foods and the Parking Authority gave them space. In Queen Village, someone donated a driveway.

At its hip new offices at Ninth and Sansom, a white-haired woman is asking the receptionist how to sign up.

"I happen to be 69 years old. Do I need a doctor's note?"


In 2004, it awarded Philly CarShare a contract that allows multiple departments to share cars, and then frees them up at night and on weekends for use by city residents.

As a result, Philadelphia was able to sell off 329 vehicles. Since the program started, the estimated saving in lower insurance costs, less use, and less abuse is $6 million, according to Jeff Friedman, a consultant for the city's Office of Fleet Management.