New campus cars up for sharing

One of the new Prisuses available for use sits in Lot A on North Campus. (Ashley Bolkcom/TommieMedia)
One of the new Priuses available for use sits in Lot A on North Campus. (Ashley Bolkcom/TommieMedia)

Two brand-new Toyota Priuses arrived on campus Monday, signaling the arrival of the HOURCAR car-sharing service to St. Thomas.

After a few years of HOURCAR talk, St. Thomas agreed to fund the program after the McKnight Foundation offered to donate half of the bill. HOURCAR is an almost 5-year-old program and is administered in St. Paul by the nonprofit Neighborhood Energy Connection. There are also cars at Macalester, Augsburg and other locations around the Twin Cities.

“The program is really designed for people who can meet their daily transportation needs with biking, walking, using transit, car pooling, maybe having one car in their household and just want to have access to a car or another car occasionally,” HOURCAR Program Manager Christopher Bineham said.

Bineham said St. Thomas’ two Priuses, both 2010 models, are not affected by Toyota’s faulty accelerator recall.

Although St. Thomas does not own the cars, it contributed around $9,000 to bring the two vehicles to campus. The West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee donated an additional $10,000 and the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association chipped in $1,000. The McKnight grant picked up the remaining portion of the investment.

Junior Mark Brown has his own car on campus for transportation to his internship every week, but said if he knew about the program before making that decision, it probably would have changed his mind.

“That’s actually a really good idea because it’d probably be way cheaper than paying for a parking permit for the year,” Brown said. “I know a lot of people who just use their cars once a week so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep them around if they have the option for this.”

With limited on-campus parking, lowering the number of cars on campus is one of the reasons St. Thomas invested in the HOURCAR program.

“If we can reduce the number of cars that need to come to campus I think that’s a service to everybody,” St. Paul Neighborhood Liaison John Hershey said.

Unlike Brown, junior Beth Langer doesn’t have a car on campus and said she would use the service once or twice a month.

“I just bike everywhere, and every so often you just need a car to go to the grocery store or something, run a couple of errands,” Langer said.

Members of the St. Thomas community, as well people from the surrounding neighborhoods, are able to use the service’s 25 energy-efficient cars either by the hour or by the day along with the already 980 HOURCAR members across the Twin Cities. Members are given special key fobs to open the cars and drive them during their scheduled times.

The program offers two membership levels depending on car use. The costs vary depending on the mileage and usage time. This money pays for upkeep, gas and insurance.

St. Thomas does not own the cars, and HOURCAR handles all logistics and problems.

The $50 application fee is waived for St. Thomas students, faculty and staff who apply before Feb. 28. Bineham said he has already seen a few applications come in, but since the program is still only a few days old, the cars are yet to be taken out.

The cars are parked in Lot A on North Campus and Lot N on South Campus near Grand and Cretin avenues.

Staying green

When St. Thomas decided to fund the program, it was part of a conscious decision to become more environmentally friendly. St. Thomas paid about $2,000 more for two hybrid cars, and sophomore Green Team co-president Becca Jabour said she thinks the money is well spent.

“I think it’s a really good step for St. Thomas because I feel like in a lot of programs we are behind, in comparison to Macalester and Ausburg especially,” Jabour said. “It’s neat that we can be on the same level as them.”

But Brown thinks students will be more concerned with the convenience than the environmental sustainability.

“I guess, for PR, it’s kind of a good thing. You can’t have a Hummer doing this. For PR, I’m sure it’s a big deal, but I doubt the average student will care too much,” Brown said. “I think if they jump on the opportunity, it probably won’t have a lot to do with the fact that it’s a hybrid.”

Whatever the reason, St. Thomas hopes the service will give students another option to get around and open a few extra parking spots on campus.

“I hope that people are open-minded enough to consider this as a possibility, as a creative way to get around, and that it’s a convenient, cheaper alternative to owning or bringing a car here,” Hershey said.

Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at