Building inspectors, planners, info-tech specialists and other city employees are getting the keys to shared cars, as municipalities push to reduce the cost of their expensive vehicle fleets and make city operations a little greener.
After five successful years of using the services of the car co-op Modo, City of Vancouver managers say they've been able to reduce their fleet by more than 100 vehicles – about 6 per cent – and cover the expense of 10,000 employee trips a year for a much lower cost.
The city is now asking for bids on a new three-year contract, hoping to increase shared-car use beyond the 345 employees now authorized to book trips and possibly to expand to more than one car-share company.
"We see it as an opportunity to avoid buying vehicles. We're trying to drive to a 20-per-cent fleet reduction," said deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston. "It's a great way to expose city employees to car-sharing. It's good for saving money." And, of course, it's part of the city's much-publicized drive to become the world's greenest city.
But even B.C. cities that aren't necessarily aiming to be the No. 1 green city are working out contracts with car-share companies as a way of providing a benefit to their younger, car-free employees or to help support the introduction of car-sharing to their suburban neighbourhoods.
Both Surrey and Port Moody have launched car-share programs in the last month at their city halls, both with Modo.
"We get access to the their unused inventory during the day, it's off-peak times, and we get a vastly reduced rate," said Surrey Councillor Bruce Hayne, chair of the city's environment committee. Surrey has an agreement that its staff have access to five of the eight Modo cars that are parked around Surrey.
Typically, those cars are driven by commuters to SkyTrain stations in the morning and away in the evening. They're also heavily used on weekends. But in the middle of the workday, they tend to sit – so now Surrey city employees are using them.
It has allowed the city to reduce its fleet of gas-fuelled cars by seven.
Port Moody started off its program last Friday with two cars. Like the other cities, it provides free parking spots for the Modo cars at or near city buildings.
The small city has no fleet of employee cars, but Mayor Mike Clay sees car sharing as an important service for some of its staff.
"We have a lot of employees who are younger and just don't have cars."
As well, the city's support for these first two cars in Port Moody means they're available for local residents during non-work hours.
Hilary Henegar, the marketing director for Modo, said the new moves from local governments are part of a national and corporate trend.
"Employers are finding that expecting people to have a car is a barrier to getting employees." Modo currently has 11,000 members. A few hundred are corporate clients and that number is growing rapidly.
Some big U.S. cities have also turned to car-share in recent years. Both Boston and Chicago have agreements with Zipcar for their staff. Indianapolis is developing an all-electric car-share program for its city employees, using a French company.
Like Vancouver, larger cities are also getting car-share companies to install their technology in cars that local governments still own. This allows different departments to share vehicles rather than each having its own fleet.
Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer said the system ultimately pays off in multiple ways for the city, not just in saving money.
"It's a big advantage for us. Less cars on the road for the city means more room for other cars and goods movement," she said. The city's example also helps private businesses understand whether it's a feasible model. "It shows them this is very possible to work everything out for employees."