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Cleveland Soon to Be Sharing Cars

Thursday, February 2, 2006 at 9:46 AM

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For people across the country, being close to everything you want makes urban living attractive. But in cities like Cleveland, you can't walk, bike or ride transit to everything. Sometimes destinations require a drive and if you don't have a car, being dependent on someone else can be awkward or inconvenient. Sharing cars as proven easy and dependable for a number of cities across the U.S. and Cleveland is soon to join them. ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton has the story.

The antique latches on the dark wood cabinetry in the kitchen of Lisa Kious and John McGovern constantly remind them they live in a very old neighborhood. Ohio City, just west of downtown Cleveland, was built before cars dominated the American landscape. That means the couple can walk or bike to work, stores and restaurants. They do own one car between them, which they use to access other parts of the city. And even then, Kious says they run into problems.

Lisa Kious: There’s days when we both schedule appointments on opposite ends of town and it’s not convenient to take the bus or a taxi and those are the days we need something else.

John McGovern: Yes, something else.

And they think they’ve found it. They’re opting to try something unique - at least for this region - courtesy of a new company, City Wheels. Starting February 6th, they and people like them will be able to share cars for a monthly membership fee. It will be the first Car sharing company in Ohio to go from planning to reality. McGovern says he hopes the service will make it possible for the couple to sell their remaining car soon.

John McGovern: It’s a vice… so I’d rather have my life free of that I’m not burdened by owning it and having to say I’m making these payments on it I’d better use the car.

It works like this: City Wheels station’s fuel efficient Scions and Priuses in accessible locations around the city and members sign them out by the hour or the day. There’s no gas or insurance to buy. And all members need is a three-year driving record free of major violations and to be over 21.

Down the street from the couple’s Victorian house, the man behind City Wheels sips tea at the French Cafe’ La Oi Oi. For the past 5 years, Ryan MacKenzie has worked for EcoCity Cleveland, an environmental planning organization. While there he strove to make Cleveland a more walkable, bikeable, transit oriented community. And he attempted to coax a national car sharing company to the City, without much luck.

Ryan MacKenzie: And they’re just too busy chasing bigger cities faster growing populations and other markets. And finally after being involved with the car sharing community internationally.

In the past year, City Wheels has received almost $35,000 in development money. MacKenzie says the business will need 25 cars, 500 members and 2 to 3 years to break even. And thanks to members of a student environmental group at Oberlin College, Oberlin is the first destination for City Wheels.

Ryan MacKenzie: They got excited they contacted me, they contacted the chief financial officer and before I knew it we had offers of financial assistance, marketing assistance. The students were very motivated to being this an environmental alternative to campus and as a way to get around.

Mackenzie says by February the trial run in Oberlin should show City Wheels where the wrinkles are in their operations. By March, Ohio City and Coventry will have two cars each. And, Mackenzie says, by the time May approaches, areas near Shaker Square, 117th Street and downtown will be included. If all goes well, Cleveland will have 16 cars stationed throughout the city by the end of this year.

Ryan MacKenzie: Our goal as we grow our fleet is to have a car in a whole variety of walkable neighborhoods close to transit but within five and no more than a 10 minute walk from our customers.

MacKenzie hopes City Wheels will fill the missing link he sees in Cleveland’s transportation infrastructure.

Ryan MacKenzie: You can rent a car but it’s a hassle, with transit your choices are better in some places than others, taxis are notoriously unreliable. And having access to a car when you really want one for a limited time is not an option right now.

Back on a quite side street in Ohio City, John McGovern is checking the tires on his blue single speed bike before he leaves for work. Besides improving life for current city dwellers, McGovern thinks the ability “to have easy access to a car when you need one and not have to make payments on one when you don’t,” might coax some people out of the suburbs and into city life.

John McGovern: Because they can see they can live in a much more convenient place where the quality of life is much higher, there’s genuine neighborhood interaction. People actually talk to each other; you can still shop at all the places you shop at. But you’re life isn’t controlled by the car anymore.

Before a single car is on the street, City Wheels has 20 members. That number’s expected to gain traction as cars roll out. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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