Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ithaca Carshare: Carshare Implementation in a Small Upstate City

This story is from the Fall 2008 Technology Transfer News, a publication of the state of New York.

Ithaca Carshare Nissan Versa in home location near Cornell University. Note sign for reserved parking, similar to busstop or taxistand (“Tow Away Zone” sign not yet installed by City of Ithaca).

During the summer of 2006, Program Opportunity Notice (PON) 1028 was issued to support the development, qualification and/or demonstration of innovative transportation products and systems. This PON was a joint effort of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). One of the projects selected for funding was Ithaca Carshare, an early small-city implementation of car sharing.

Carsharing is a membership-based program that allows approved members 24/7 automated access to a fleet of vehicles located in scattered sites, usually in or near dense neighborhoods or employment centers.

Members' driver records are vetted before approval, allowing the Carshare organization to hold auto liability insurance on the entire group as a pool. Use of vehicles is coordinated with a reservation system where members can reserve cars via the web or an automated phone system, on a first come, first serve basis. Access to the cars and records of time of use and mileage, are created and kept using an RFID system with computers in the cars that send information to a central server via text messages and a cell phone

Members pay an application fee, an annual or monthly membership fee, and usage charges (per hour and per mile) only when they reserve and use vehicles. All other expenses, including gas, insurance, maintenance, cleaning, and other costs, are borne by the carshare organization, with members receiving a monthly bill itemized by trip.

Carsharing is particularly suited to short duration trips from locations where the user does not have convenient access to a personal car. For instance, non-SOV (single occupant vehicle) commuters can benefit from carshare vehicles located at employment
centers for mid-day errands including doctor visits, or work related errands. Residents of dense neighborhoods benefit from car sharing because their need for a dedicated private automobile may be infrequent. Car sharing can provide the occasional access to a car for shopping trips or other trips not well served by transit, walking, or biking, thereby allowing reduced car ownership by residents of downtowns and other nodes.

Carshare members use RFID fobs to lock and unlock vehicles. In-car computer system disables ignition when car is locked with the fob, increasing security since the ignition key remains inside vehicle.

Car sharing was first launched in Switzerland in 1987 and in North America in Quebec City in 1993. As of July 2008, there were 33 programs serving 318,838 members with 7,505 vehicles in North America. Most cities with car sharing are large urban areas. Ithaca Carshare is one of the first to explore applying this mode in a small city, in view of the possibilities for other Upstate cities.

Ithaca Carshare's business model includes strong partnerships with Cornell University and Ithaca College, serving both the student and staff populations. Because so many people are able to benefit from Ithaca Carshare vehicles, the City of Ithaca, Cornell University and Ithaca College have all provided parking for carshare vehicles, similar to what is provided for bus stops.

A major hurdle for the project was finding auto liability insurance. The conservatism of the insurance industry coupled with the innovation of this business model proved challenging. After nearly two years struggling with this issue, Ithaca Carshare finally ended up using a connection with another nonprofit
carshare outside NYS to secure this insurance.

Cornell and Ithaca College have also purchased memberships in bulk for students and staff, with Cornell tying eligibility for these “free” memberships to participation in their award-winning TDM (transportation demand management) program.

Ithaca Carshare launched with six Nissan Versa hatchbacks located in downtown Ithaca, on the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses, and at EcoVillage at Ithaca (a co-housing community located 2 miles west of Ithaca). In the first three months of operation, Ithaca Carshare has grown to serve 500 members with nine cars and one Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. They have also served as a mentor for several other groups exploring carsharing services in other Upstate cities.

One of the ten Ithaca Carshare vehicles is a Toyota Tacoma truck, registered with the local solid waste transfer station. Note sign for reserved parking includes “Tow Away Zone” designation, similar to a busstop.

Future plans include outreach to low-income populations in partnership with social service agencies and investigation of the possibility of adding electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles to the fleet.

For additional information on this please contact Joe Tario at jdt AT nyserda.org

UPDATE: Jennifer of Ithaca Carshare asked me to add this information:

Thanks for the post about our organization! We have been operating nearly six months now, and are really pleased with how things are going.

I just wanted to let you know that it may be more useful for people interested in Ithaca Carshare to contact us directly, instead of Joe Tario, who is our funding contact at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. (Of course, if they are interested in funding opportunities in New York State, Joe would be a great contact.)

Here at Ithaca Carshare, we can be reached at 607.277.3210 or info@ithacacarshare.org, and our snail mail address is P.O. Box 418, Ithaca, NY 14851-0418



Jennifer Dotson, Executive Director

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Monastery

I drove a few minutes up the mountain yesterday to visit the local monastery. They were having their annual Christmas Fair.

The first snow of the year was falling (a little later than usual). Just enough to make it festive. It stuck to the ground, but not to the pavement. Which was good, since those narrow mountain roads are treacherous enough without snow. There are a lot of horse farms and Christmas tree farms in the area. Many cars had freshly-cut trees tied to their roofs.

The monks call it a Christmas Fair, but it's a really low-key event - more so than the name suggests. Basically, they support themselves by selling things they produce, and the Christmas Fair is when they open up a little shop at the monastery.

They could probably sell a lot more if they advertised more. The average garage sale has more advertising than the Christmas Fair. But that's not really what they're about. They have regular customers who know about the Fair, and they sell enough then that they don't need to advertise.

It's not easy to find the place if you don't know it's there. There are no signs by the main road. The monastery is marked by a gate off a winding, barely paved mountain road. The gate is open with a small sign when the Fair is on, and you drive up a narrow dirt road through the woods to the monastery. (The road is only wide enough for one car at a time. Luckily, I've never encountered a car going the other way.) Among the trees are scattered religious statues and some farm animals (sheep, goats, chickens).

There's no parking to speak of. The monks don't have cars. People park wherever they can, and no matter where you park, you pretty much block the road.

The "shop" is a tiny wooden shed. It's heated by a wood stove, with a couple of friendly cats in front of it. The shed is so small that it's hard to move if even three or four people are in it. Shelves built by students at local colleges hold items for sale: jams, salsas, tomato sauces, chutneys, soups, vinegars, soaps, dried spices, candles, and small craft items.

I don't really "do" Christmas any more, at least as far as gift-buying. However, I do buy small consumable items as gifts, if I know the recipient will actually use them. So I bought some aromatic vinegars and handmade soaps as gifts for friends and family members who like them.

There was an article in the local paper about the monastery. College students can work there and earn credits. One young woman said she enjoyed it so much she planned to keep working there, for no pay and no college credits. She said after graduation, she planned to take up subsistence farming.

That's great, but her college is one of the most expense in the country. Seems kind of a waste to spend over $200,000 on a degree if you want to be a subsistence farmer. But then, her family can probably afford it.