The transmission on Kate Westdijk's 1984 sports car just died. That's promising. At least it's promising for the volunteers who'd like to recruit her into Green Mountain CarShare, a new non-profit company being launched by UVM graduate student Annie Bourdon.
"Some people don't need a car, and a lot of people don't need a second or third car. They need a fraction of a car," explains Bourdon. But since you can't buy cars by the slice, many people own more cars than they usually need, "just in case. Or for that occasional trip to the grocery store," she says.
That's where a car-sharing network steps in. For about $10 month (plus a $30 joining fee) members of Green Mountain CarShare will be able to reserve one of six cars parked on campus or downtown, using a toll-free number or a website. Then, with an electronic tag on their keychain, these few dozen charter members will be able to take a nearby car and drive to a dentist appointment or visit a friend out of town. Within five years, Bourdon aims to have 30 cars (plus a few pick-up trucks and vans) scattered around neighborhoods in Burlington, used by hundreds of households.
In 2001, Bourdon and two friends in San Francisco launched CityCarShare, the first car-sharing program in the United States. Four years later, she was deputy director of the organization with 15 employees. Today, CityCarShare has more than 13,000 members. Now back in her home state of Vermont, as the final project in her master's of public administration degree, Bourdon plans to start something similar.
Car share programs work because they save people money. It costs an average of $471 per month to own a car, Bourdon say, citing an AAA study, "just to sit in the garage. That doesn't include operating it." A car-share member who drives 100 miles and uses a car for 10 hours each month would have a $90 tab.
"Car sharing doesn't limit mobility. It just makes people more thoughtful," Bourdon says. Instead of the delayed and sometimes-hidden costs of car ownership, "you see the real cost of driving on your credit card statement each month."