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Can Nonprofit Electric Car-Shares Boost EV Affordability?

Car-share operations are turning to electric vehicles as they reimagine the service as an affordable, nonprofit transportation business model. The shift is helping to serve low-income communities where mobility options are limited.

A woman using a car-share operation.
In a shift away from gas-powered, for-profit operating models, car-share operations are trending toward electric and nonprofit.

Several car-sharing initiatives along the West Coast and in the upper Midwest are highlighting their structure as nonprofit and co-op-type businesses with a mission toward serving disadvantaged neighborhoods with affordable electric vehicles.

“Sometimes car-share services come and go. They come into a city, and they stay as long as the incentives make sense for them … and then they leave,” remarked Paul Schroeder, president and CEO of HourCar, a nonprofit shared mobility company in the Minnesota Twin Cities region.

“But in this case, everything that’s here is going to stay here. The vehicles stay here. The charging stations stay here. Because this is a municipal project,” Schroeder added, speaking on a Jan. 17 panel discussion organized by Oregon-based advocacy group Forth Mobility.

HourCar is operating the Evie car-share service in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The service launched in February 2022 and operates 123 electric vehicles, with plans to soon expand to 175 vehicles this year. By the end of 2022 the service had accumulated nearly 57,000 trips, totaling more than 600,000 miles.

“These, we think are really promising initial results,” said Schroeder, crediting “robust partnerships” as one of the drivers for the success.

A similar operation has taken off in the California Central Valley in the form Míocar, a nonprofit electric car-share service first deployed in Tulare and Kern counties. Rates for Míocar are $4 an hour or $35 per day, which includes 150 miles. The service includes insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance. Míocar charges $0.35 per mile after this threshold. Míocar uses Chevrolet Bolts with a 240-mile range, Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans and Nissan Leafs, which come in either 160-mile or 220-mile ranges.

“For us, it was very important to look at vehicles that had higher levels of range. Just because when we originally started we were in rural areas, so we wanted to make sure that our members were able to drive the longer distances that are required,” said Gloria Huerta, director of national car-share programs for Mobility Development Operations, a nonprofit focused on the expansion of Míocar.

Similarly, the Zero-Emission Cooperative, (ZEV co-op) in the state of Washington is growing the concept of using the co-op business model to support low-cost electric car-sharing. A pilot project plans to start with 20 vehicles, said Greg Dronkert, president and board chair for Zero-Emission Cooperative.

“There’s demand for car-sharing, and there’s certainly demand for electric vehicles. And we believe there’s demand for electric car-sharing,” said Dronkert, during the panel.

Users of the car-share co-op can be participants, which would include anyone who uses the service. Then there are also “members,” which provides them with equity in the co-op. Memberships can be on the individual level, group or low-income qualified member. Members get the lowest rates, advance reservations and other special offers.

“Members, really, are the driving force,” said Dronkert, stressing that car-share programs must be responsive, convenient, affordable, accessible and sustainable.

These nonprofit car-share models with a focus on bringing transportation equity — and EVs — to underserved communities are different from more conventional private-sector services namely in pricing. GIG, a car-share operated in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, Calif., cost $19.99 an hour or $119.99 per day — significantly more than Míocar’s $4 an hour or $35 a day.

The Evie car program in the Twin Cities costs $15 an hour or $110 a day. However, a basic membership plan runs $7 a month, with rates at $9.75 an hour and $71.50 a day. A cheaper income-qualified plan is available.

“We think pricing matters a lot,” said Schroeder, adding, Evie prices are about half of what other one-way car-share services cost.

Included as part of the rollout of Evie is a network of easy-to-access chargers. So far, 42 charging locations have been installed, providing 120 Level 2 charge points. The service just added its first DC fast-charging station, and a full build-out will include 70 charging stations with nearly 280 Level 2 charge points, and 10 DC fast-charging locations.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
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