It was a summer day seven years ago when Leah Golby’s car wouldn’t start. Rather than seek out immediate repairs — an additional errand for a Sunday already packed with errands — she went about her travels on foot.
“I came back home that day and said, ‘You know what? Let me try an experiment,’ ” she recalled.
She went car-less the whole summer. Then the whole year. To this day, the Albany resident and 10th Ward councilwoman has gotten by without owning a car. It helps that she lives and works in the city.
She started walking her daughter to school each morning and bicycling or taking the bus when she needed to get somewhere. She no longer has to worry about maintenance, repairs or shoveling her car out from under mounds of snow in the winter.
But then there are the days when Golby needs to buy a big bag of dog food. Like Thursday. Normally, she would ask a friend for a ride, but now that she’s a pioneering member of the new Capital CarShare program in Albany, she had no need. She simply reserved a car from a hub near her home, ran her errand and returned the car to the hub when she was done.
“Dog food, doctor’s appointments, big shopping trips, these are all things that I would use CarShare for,” she said. “When I needed a car before, I would ask a friend for a ride or rent a car. But renting a car is a lot more burdensome for low-income people.”
Individuals can purchase one of two membership plans, which include gas for up to 100 miles. A silver membership is available for $5 a month, plus $11 per hour using the car or a day rate of $79 on weekdays or $89 on weekends. Anyone who thinks they may be a frequent user is encouraged to purchase the gold membership, available for $30 a month, plus $8 per hour or a day rate of $69 on weekdays or $79 on weekends.
Car sharing launched in Portland, Oregon, in 1988. It took off among people who wanted the benefits of a car for a short period of time without the cost or responsibilities of ownership. The vehicles are usually placed at convenient, accessible locations in high-density neighborhoods for use by the hour or day.
Albany officials have eyed car-sharing programs for years as an alternative and environmentally friendly mode of transportation to complement Capital District Transportation Authority bus service and pilot bike-share programs. Ideal members, they say, tend to be empty nesters embracing a downsized lifestyle, on-campus college students who want to run errands off-campus or take day trips, and low-income individuals who can’t afford to own a car.
Officials from the Capital District Transportation Committee, Community Loan Fund, CDTA and Price Chopper joined city officials Friday morning in front of City Hall to extol the new program.
“As city leaders, we knock on doors, we go out to community meetings, we talk to our residents in every neighborhood,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, “and this is a need that we’ve been hearing about for years, so to finally see it fulfilled is wonderful.”
Capital CarShare attempted to launch earlier this year on funds raised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, but it only collected $2,300. The Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, a nonprofit group that provides low-cost, flexible loans to support sustainable community development efforts, helped get the program up and running with an $800,000 loan used to purchase the first six vehicles. The Capital District Transportation Committee also provided a $314,000 grant.
Nnenna Ferguson, the organization’s marketing director, said the goal is to eventually expand beyond Albany to as many Capital Region cities as possible.
“The timeline on that expansion is not something I can comment on today,” she said Friday, “but it is definitely within our plans. Once we feel like we’re fully operational here in Albany, we will expand into any neighboring city that wants us as soon as possible.”
To register, visit http://capitalcarshare.org or call 545-4740.