Taking It to the Streets: Ithaca Carshare
Carshare program saves money, hassles, energy. by Erin McKigney '09
William Pelto is used to being stared at while driving. The associate dean of music is also accustomed to being approached by unfamiliar people in public parking lots. Their curiosity stems from the little blue and green logo on the side of the vehicle he drives. It reads “Ithaca Carshare.”
“It’s always a conversation starter,” Pelto says. “Strangers come up and ask, What is it? Then they want to know how it works.”
Last summer, when Pelto’s car sputtered its last, he examined his transportation needs. He and his wife, Linda Larson, opted out of purchasing a new vehicle. With choices like the TCAT bus system, car rentals for long-distance travel, and Ithaca Carshare, the community’s newest form of alternative transportation, he says they would end up ahead financially, and couldn’t beat the convenience of carsharing and element of social responsibility it offers.
“Our experience has been totally positive,” Pelto says. “We’ve had nothing but success with Ithaca Carshare in terms of interacting with the [organization] and its website, the reserving process, and the cars.”
Ithaca Carshare is a membership-based service that provides 24/7 access to vehicles parked in convenient locations throughout Ithaca, including a spot on the IC campus. The nonprofit organization has a fleet of nine cars and a truck; it’s currently got more than 600 members, a number that’s been growing since its inception last June.
Marian Brown, M.S. ’95, special assistant to the provost and secretary of the board of Ithaca Carshare, worked to place a car on campus. “It added a new choice to the whole mix of mobility options we’re trying to create,” she says.
While the College doesn’t bar students from bringing cars to campus, its sustainability initiatives encourage more ecologically sound methods of transport. Brown thought the carshare option might sway students and employees to carpool more often or forgo bringing a car if offered alternatives. Now there’s an Ithaca Carshare spot on campus near the Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise.
Transportation accounts for about 20 percent of the College’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, Brown says. “We’re planning how we can reduce our impact — carshare is one way,” she says.
The service has obvious environmental benefits, but students who don’t own cars are also finding it convenient and cost effective. Once registered, members reserve a car by phone or online and receive a programmed key fob that unlocks the car.
Jenna Scatena ’09 is from California and didn’t want to haul her car across country. “It serves as a very efficient alternative,” Scatena says. “I don’t even miss my car.”
Scatena’s Ithaca Carshare package incorporates TCAT passes. Both IC and Cornell University students have special rates from Ithaca Carshare. “It ends up saving me money in terms of paying for car insurance, and I don’t have to pay for any maintenance or gas,” Scatena says. “It’s a good shift in mentality, being able to share a car.”
Carshare offers two member packages. “It’s My Car” costs $20 a month or $200 a year and contains a usage fee of $4.95 per hour and 20 cents per mile. “Just in Case” costs $50 a year and contains a usage fee of $7.95 per hour and 20 cents per mile.
The carsharing concept and service originated in Switzerland, and now Ithaca’s organization works with a network of independent carshares across North America. While this service usually works best in large urban cities, Ithaca is an ideal community for the service, says Jennifer Dotson, Ithaca Carshare executive director.
“Ithaca is a transient-intensive city,” she says. “Even before Carshare, a lot of people were figuring out how to not rely on their car for every single trip.” According to TCAT’s system report, more than 3.3 million rides were taken in 2008. And within the city of Ithaca, the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council reports that in 2007 more than 40 percent of the working people within the city walked to work.
Carshare is looking to boost usership in hopes of expanding its fleet and lowering prices, and the College is looking to better publicize the carshare option.
“We want carshare to become an intricate part of how folks move in Ithaca,” says Granger Macy, Ithaca Carshare treasurer and associate professor of management in the School of Business. “As we achieve that, then we’ll achieve our goal — to get people out of their cars and on their feet.”