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City mulls car-sharing partnership

Blog Post by: Eric Roper

If car sharing vehicles are allowed to park on city streets, will more people use them?

That's one question behind a proposal that will be discussed tomorrow at the City Council's transportation and public works committee. City officials are mulling whether a partnership with a car sharing company could help expand the service to more areas of the city.

Car sharing is a booming business in transit-friendly cities where few residents own cars, but remains a limited operation in Minneapolis. They are similar to rental cars, except people pay by the hour and they are parked around the city.

The most expansive selection of car sharing vehicles in Minneapolis belongs to HourCar -- they have 39 cars in 35 locations. HourCar currently parks all of their cars in private lots, but a potential partnership with the city could allow them to leave cars on the street as well.

On-street car sharing is becoming more common in other cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., said Christopher Bineham, HourCar's program manager.

“One of the issues for expanding car sharing is finding access to visible and convenient parking locations for our cars to allow folks to use them," said Bineham said.

The city is preparing to issue a request for proposals seeking a company to engage in a two-year pilot program. On-street parking options would likely be the most prominent benefit of the partnership, but city parking systems manager Atif Saeed said City Hall could potentially offer help with marketing, collecting data and providing signage.

One thing is for sure: The city will aid a private company, but "the city is not going to be in the business of car sharing itself," Saeed said.

The city will likely be choosing between HourCar and its primary competitor ZipCar. ZipCar is the largest car sharing service in the United States, but its footprint in Minneapolis is largely limited to the University of Minnesota.

© 2011 Star Tribune