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dude, where’s my Flexcar?

By enelson
Friday, August 4th, 2006 at 11:57 pm in car sharing.

flexcar resized.jpg

Being a commuter student, I never had to worry about not having a car. No, parking was my big problem, and it dogged me until I got a coveted sticker to the lot behind the dining hall where the student newspaper kept its offices.

But Flexcar, one of the area’s three car-sharing services, is going to solve that problem for students at U.C. Berkeley later this month. They’re going to become the first car-sharing service to offer membership to drivers under 21.

What a noble gesture. It’s like, well, giving credit cards to students. I had one of those when I was in college, too, and ran it up to the limit in two, perhaps three weeks.

Much like Caltrans was asked about closing half the Bay Bridge on Labor Day weekend, Flexcar General Manager Dana Beard found herself frequently confronted by the question, “like, what are you thinking?”

“That’s the question I’ve been getting,” she admitted.

“We’re not going to be going to frat houses to sign people up,” she chuckled nervously. “We’re going to be going to¬†libraries, instead.”

That, and requiring parental consent, a $250 damage deposit and a spotless driving record.

Still, Flexcar is performing a valuable public service in allowing underclasspersons access to a car for, say $9 an hour, including insurance, gas and parking, depending on the type of vehicle they reserve online and unlock with their smart card.

And like other Flexcar members, the students, many of whom will no doubt have matriculated at Cal, where a bunch of the company’s cars will be based, willl also have to pay a $35 application fee and $50 annual fee.

About 38 of the 70 cars Flexcar’s eight-year-old car-sharing operation owns in the Bay Area are Honda Civic Hybrids, affixed with decals that allow them to drive in carpool lanes with solo drivers.

Beard says that research shows that for every car shared, there are about 14 cars that don’t need to be owned in our smoggy metropolis.

That statistic comes from the second most frequent reason given for not abandoning one’s urban vehicle to ride transit.

“The first reason is something like, `I live in the Oakland Hills and work in Half Moon Bay, so if I wanted to commute to work by transit, I’d have to take five buses, three trains and it would take four hours,” Beard says.

The second is that so many of us (myself included) feel stranded without a private vehicle.

Car sharing allows relatively quick access to the emergency or once-a-week car, so the rest of the time we can ride BART, Muni or AC Transit.

I can tell you, after a transit meltdown last week —¬†too embarassing for even the Capricious one to discuss — I can really appreciate the idea.

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