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Community Car

Car sharing may come to the Bluff City.

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Most people think of rental cars as a way to get around while visiting another city or for driving at home when a personal vehicle is in the shop. But what about renting a car by the minute or hour just to get to work, school, or a dinner date?

Known as car-sharing, short-term rental programs are already in place in Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, and New York City. Memphis city councilman Myron Lowery is pushing a resolution that would make Memphis one of the next places that offers car-sharing.

The council was set to vote on the resolution Tuesday, but at press time, the results are not yet known. Lowery said he hasn't faced any opposition to the idea from fellow council members.

"Car-sharing is another avenue for citizens to obtain easy transportation," Lowery said. "It benefits our citizens if they need a car for a short-term period."

If passed, the goal is to have a car-sharing business operating downtown by May. Lowery, in collaboration with the Downtown Memphis Commission, is hoping to start a three-year pilot program with a car-sharing service to test its business in the Bluff City.

The program would include providing the company with up to eight highly visible parking spaces throughout the downtown area to park its rental vehicles. Zipcar, the world's leading car-sharing network, is number one on the list of businesses to be recruited for the project.

To access Zipcar vehicles, people pay a $25 application fee, as well as a $50 annual membership fee. Members can choose plans based on the mileage they anticipate to accumulate on a weekly or monthly basis.

Members have to be 21 years old to reserve a car or 18 if renting from a university campus. Vehicles can be reserved online or by phone and can be rented by the minute, hour, or day. Members are responsible for returning vehicles with at least one-quarter tank of fuel.

Zipcar members can use their "Zipcard" to lock and unlock reserved vehicles. Once inside the car, members retrieve the keys from under the dashboard.

"We've talked to many downtowners, including workers and residents, who have expressed a desire to have this transportation option available," said Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission. "[They] have expressed that this would improve their experience and quality of life downtown."

Morris said car-sharing would primarily benefit people who live and work downtown and don't need to use a car often, a person who primarily utilizes public transportation, or couples who want to go from owning two cars to just one. He said car-sharing would decrease vehicle congestion in the city and help people save money at the same time.

According to The Economist, one car-sharing rental can replace up to 15 owned vehicles. As of December, an estimated 1.7 million people — 800,000 in the United States — were car-sharing members in 27 countries, according to the Transportation Sustainability Research Center in California.

Rhodes College currently utilizes Zipcar, but the new resolution would make its vehicles available to all downtown residents.

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