Flexcar car-sharing service merges, increases sites, improves local service

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, On December 5th, the Flexcar space on S.E. Woodstock Blvd. at 46th Avenue was vacant all day while the car was in use – but the next morning, at 10:45, this vehicle was back, ready to be picked up by the next Flexcar member in need of this increasingly popular transportation option.

Have you considered driving less? Or maybe you already are 'car-free', and benefiting from not having to pay for maintenance, insurance, and gasoline.

This decade, we have seen an increased exploration of transportation options. One of those options, in Portland, is Flexcar, a business whose product is a car-sharing program that makes available a variety of vehicles (including sedans, pickup trucks, minivans, and hybrids) to be used by members in neighborhoods throughout the country. The shared cars are granted their own clearly-marked parking spots by the City of Portland.

(By the way, if you park in a marked Flexcar space, yes - you'll get a ticket! The spaces are clearly marked, both with sidewalk signs and with paint; the entire parking space is boxed on the street with white paint.)

Flexcar, which merged with another business with a similar service, Zipcar, in November, is attempting to make it easier for the public to get information and service.

'We've had a lot of growth,' says Bill Scott, general manager of Portland Flexcar. 'We are up to 225 cars in the Portland area. The big difference that the merger will make to the BEE readership is that the number of neighborhood pickup sites and partner Flexcar cities has doubled.'

Flexcar Portland recently added a second car in the Brooklyn neighborhood whose pickup site, a rectangular parking box painted on the street, is at S.E. Milwaukie and Center Streets. One has been added in Westmoreland at S.E. Milwaukie and Tolman, one at S.E. 46th and Woodstock Boulevard, and one at S.E. 49th and Powell Boulevard. Scott says the company expects to have one or two on the Reed College campus in the near future.

'Each shared Flexcar takes about fifteen cars off the road,' asserts Scott. In addition to helping to reduce air pollution and conserve gasoline, the program can reduce city congestion. 'The goal is to solve parking problems, not contribute to them,' Scott adds. He notes that the City of Portland has now made it easier for Flexcar to identify the marked on-street Flexcar spaces by allowing them to involve neighborhood suggestions when seeking new sites.

One of the Flexcar F.A.Q.'s on the company website is, 'How do I roam in other cities with my Flexcar account?' Turns out, cars are now available in fifteen metropolitan areas, including Seattle (where it started in 2000), San Francisco, as well as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

Referring to the merger with Zipcar, Scott says, 'The ease of use and reliability of reservations and operating systems will improve. We can expect an upgrade in the quality of service.'

To become a member of Flexcar in the Portland area one currently pays an annual membership fee of $35, plus $7-10 per hour for the use of a car, with the exact amount depending on the day of the week. Insurance is provided by Flexcar, with a $500 deductible if an accident should occur.

For more information on the service, visit the Internet website: www.flexcar.com, or call 1-877/353-9227.