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Hourly car rentals may soon be available for drivers in Village

In need of a car but only for a couple hours? The solution may be coming soon to the Village.

La Jolla Town Council’s transit committee heard the details of a new carsharing plan currently in operation in La Jolla Shores, Sorrento Valley and elsewhere throughout San Diego. There are plans to expand into Pacific Beach and the Village in the near future.

Jordana Beebe, general manager of Flexcar, told a small group of committee members Sept. 11 what car sharing is all about and how it differs from rental vehicles, which typically are contracted for a day or longer.

“You may not need a car for 24 hours,” said Beebe. “With Flexcar, you just pay by the hour.”

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Flexcar allows drivers to make a reservation for as little as a half-hour to run errands or go on short trips. Beebe likened the Flexcar model to an iPod, where users can only download the tracks they like, rather than purchase the entire album.

Beebe’s company is now in negotiations with businesses and institutions in La Jolla to locate a Flexcar site in the Village.

Flexcar, first developed in Seattle about six years ago, is one of the nation’s first and largest car-sharing companies. For an annual fee, members can reserve a vehicle over the Internat or the phone. The fleet of low-emission vehicles and fuel-efficient hybrids is permanently parked around town and at convenient spaces near homes and workplaces.

The hourly rate charged for a Flexcar vehicle, in the $8 to $12 range, covers all contingencies: gasoline, car insurance, parking and maintenance. The program is presently available for people between the ages of 21 and 75.

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Transit committee chair Dan Allen said Flexcar’s hourly rates are cheap compared to rental rates elsewhere in the United Sates. He said car sharing is used in Europe as an alternative to mass transit.

Beebe said one of the most important things about car sharing is it allows people to get maximum use out of their motor vehicles.

“Data from (the American Automobile Association) shows people pay upwards of $8,000 a year to own and operate their car,” she said. “Many people spend only about 45 minutes in a car going to and from work. Vehicles tend to be parked 90 percent of the time, so cars are an inefficiently used resource.”

Statistics also show transportation costs are the second-highest monthly expense for most households, after housing.

A Flexcar pilot program is now operating at UCSD and other universities. Sam Corbett is the UCSD assistant director of transportation parking services, and he said carsharing is catching on as a cost-effective, convenient mode of travel for students and faculty.

“We’ve had them here since April,” he said, “and, by all accounts, it’s been a huge success.”

Corbett said UCSD pays for up to six hours a month of Flexcar time for employees who choose not to have a campus parking permit.

“If you’re committed to using a more sustainable transportation mode, we recommend that, and we reward those people,” he said. “We believe in promoting alternative transportation, because we think that’s the right thing to do to remove vehicles from the road, improve air quality and reduce energy consumption.”

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Flexcar charges a $40 annual membership fee and a one-time $35 application fee. Members reserve Flexcars online, then arrive at the vehicle location at the time of their reservation. They return the car to the same location.

Users are also given gas cards to refill the vehicle, and they receive a $2 personal credit for their time and effort.

Beebe said Flexcar users respond positively when she tells them they’ll never have to use the Department of Motor Vehicles again.

Transit commitee member Jennifer Atkinson said the Flexcar program would work for her.

“There’s just one car in my family, and this is a perfect concept for myself,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

Visit www.flexcar.com.