USF partnership to offer hourly rental cars to students
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07/23/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

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Phil Winters, director of transportation demand management at USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research, shows off the hybrid SUV available for hourly rental.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

A new partnership between the University of South Florida and a private company has introduced four hybrid cars to the Tampa campus for students to rent by the hour as a substitute for owning a car. But there appears to be only slight interest from students who don’t own an automobile.

WeCar is the name of the car-sharing arm of Enterprise Rent-A-Car that began accepting USF members on Thursday. Students, faculty, and staff can pay a $20 application fee, a $50 yearly membership fee, and an hourly charge that varies depending on the car. The rate for a Prius is $10 per hour and a hybrid SUV is $12 per hour.

Ryan Johnson, assistant vice president of WeCar operations, says there are advantages to car sharing.

Director of parking and transportation at USF, Manuel Lopez, doesn’t know how many students will opt to not bring a vehicle to campus because of the availability of car sharing.

The WeCar program is funded by a research grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and the Florida DOT to USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR). That’s according to the director of CUTR’s transportation demand management program, Phil Winters. He calls it a “good compliment” to other programs designed to cut down on the number of vehicles on campus.

“There’s a certain amount of money we need to pay for each of the vehicles on a monthly basis. But that amount that we have to pay as a university – and Florida DOT has to pay – is only the amount that is not paid by the users. For the four vehicles, it’s roughly $6,000 a month. … Roughly break even looks like about approximately 5 hours of rentals per day for thirty days. If we get above that then the university, the Florida DOT, doesn’t owe anything to WeCar.”

Winters says the parties have not negotiated the terms of revenue sharing above the break even point. On Thursday morning, WeCar representatives demonstrated the online login process. For any given 24-hour period, there is a maximum rental charge of $70 for a Prius or $84 for the SUV. A special overnight rate of $35 from 6pm to 8am is also available. WeCar’s Ryan Johnson says the rental fee includes gasoline for up to 200 miles before additional charges accrue.

After making an online reservation, a member swipes a card over the windshield which unlocks the doors and activates the reservation. Johnson says USF is their first car-sharing operation in Florida and that WeCar is geared more toward short trips but members can get discounts for longer trips from their parent company.

WMNF spoke to about twenty people at the Marshall Student Center. Most of them have their own cars. Four do not, and their opinions ranged from a slight interest to no interest.

A sophomore majoring in sign language who wants to remain anonymous takes a campus shuttle bus from a nearby rental house. “I probably would not use that because I do not have that much liquid cash to use for that. And also I have friends that that have cars that I can borrow for free.”

Patrick Patterson is a freshman in mechanical engineering who started classes this summer. He currently bikes seven miles to campus each day but plans to move to on-campus housing. Even though he does not own a car, Patterson doesn’t expect to sign up for WeCar. “Personally, probably not since I intend to live on campus and bike around a lot. But other people might. It seems like a relatively reasonable price, a relatively reasonable system in general. I don’t see any obvious flaws in it. I know of people who would probably take advantage of that.”

Recent USF graduate Desiree Lavecchia took her bike on the public bus from Ybor City to campus. “I probably wouldn’t take advantage of it only because if I were to go anywhere off campus, it wouldn’t be so far that I couldn’t ride my bike there; I’m pretty reliable when it comes to my bike. So, no, but maybe for other students it’d be good.”

Stefan Calac is a freshman majoring in psychology. He takes public busses each day from Pinellas Park to campus – 2 and a half hours each way. “No. Honestly, it sounds like it might get outrageous in price, from what it sounds like.”

Some students who do have cars said they might have been interested if they didn’t own one. That includes this junior criminology major - who commutes from Brandon but wishes to remain anonymous. “I would probably use that if I didn’t have my own vehicle and I was living on campus.”

A survey by CUTR in 2007 found that about 8 percent of USF students consider car sharing to be “very appealing and useful,” and 21 percent more found it “somewhat appealing and useful.”

University of South Florida

CUTR

WeCar

U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration

Florida Department of Transportation

CarSharing.net

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