In the Capital Region, it can be tough to get around without a car.
There are buses, but they don’t go everywhere, and taking cabs can get expensive.
But a car-sharing program could make things easier for people who lack reliable transportation. At least, that’s what a new committee currently exploring the possibility of bringing one to Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties believes.
Car sharing is a low-cost, neighborhood-based car-rental program that allows people to use a car for a few hours at a time.
Lauren Alpert, a graduate student in regional planning at the University at Albany, was hired to serve as the committee’s consultant. She said car sharing is successful “in urban cores where people don’t necessarily need to have cars.”
Advocates say car-sharing programs help people access vehicles when they need them and are good for the environment because they give people the option of relying on a combination of public transportation and the occasional car rental.
An open forum on car sharing will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 12 at the Albany Public Library’s main branch.
“We’re trying to educate the public about what car sharing is,” Alpert said.
Other cities have such programs. One of the highest profile car-sharing programs is Zipcar, a for-profit company with cars in about 14 U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Providence and Pittsburgh. But there are other programs: Hertz on Demand; WeCar, which is run by Enterprise Rent-A-Car; U Car Share, which is run by U-Haul; and locally based services such as Buffalo Carshare in Buffalo, City CarShare in San Francisco and PhillyCarShare in Philadelphia.
These locally based efforts are nonprofits, and the fees are fairly modest: the Buffalo program advertises membership dues of $5 a month, or $50 per year, for infrequent use, and dues of $20 per month for drivers who use the service more than five hours per month. Drivers also pay hourly rates for vehicle use: Infrequent users pay $8 per hour, while people who use the vehicle for more than five hours per month pay $5 per hour.
The committee studying the possibility of bringing car sharing to the Capital Region comprises a number of organizations, including the Capital District Transportation Authority, the Capital District Transportation Committee, the Central Avenue Business Improvement District, the College of Saint Rose and the Albany Parking Authority.
Alpert, the committee’s consultant, is developing a plan for the area that will pinpoint the places where sharing would be feasible.
Margo Janack, a spokeswoman for CDTA, said that group views car sharing as something that can complement bus service and perhaps make relying on buses more feasible for people.
“Our buses don’t go everywhere, and they may not always run at convenient times,” Janack said.
Janack said CDTA is interested in finding ways to fill gaps in its service. CDTA’s Guaranteed Ride Home program allows people who have a valid monthly CDTA pass or are registered for the Guaranteed Ride Home program at iPool2.org to get a free taxi ride in case of emergency. iPool2.org serves commuters who walk, bike, car pool or use alternative transportation by helping them find car pool matches, park and ride lots and other services.
The website capitalmoves.org contains information about car sharing and how it works. According to the site, people join a car-sharing program, often for a fee, and are then able to reserve vehicles online or via a smartphone. Drivers buy gas, but the vehicles’ maintenance and insurance is part of the user fee.
The University at Albany has a small program that began in 2010 and is open to the public. The school contracts with Hertz on Demand, which provides two cars at the uptown campus, near the freshman dorms, and one car near Alumni Quad on Western Avenue, which is shared with the College of Saint Rose.
Mary Ellen Mallia, director of environmental sustainability at the University at Albany, said the car-sharing program has 550 members, and 75 percent of them are under the age of 24.
“We’re trying to get people not to rely on cars, not to bring cars to campus,” she said. “We want to reduce our car culture.”
Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus. One hope, Mallia said, is that they’ll be less likely to bring cars to campus in their sophomore, junior and senior years if they can meet their transportation needs otherwise.
Mallia said the number of hours the cars are in use is on the rise. In April, the cars were used 711 hours, for a utilization rate of 33 percent, up from 15 percent in January, 25 percent in February and 18 percent in March. She said people seem to be more aware of the program, and the goal is to continue raising the utilization rate.
Capitalmoves.org is sponsored by CDTA, CDTC, the state Department of Transportation and the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.