by Emily Sargent
MONTPELIER — According to Annie Bourdon, driving a car is the most energy-consuming activity many Vermonters undertake on a regular basis. Bourdon is the executive director of CarShare Vermont, an innovative program that aims to reduce that energy consumption by reducing the number of cars on Vermont roadways and encouraging Vermonters to use vehicles thoughtfully. CarShare Vermont began with several cars in Burlington in 2008. And now, this past April, the program expanded into Montpelier.
CarShare vehicles are co-owned by CarShare members, who pay a monthly membership fee of $5.00 towards vehicle upkeep. A member can reserve a vehicle online at any time, and then pick up that car at a permanent parking spot called a “pod.” CarShare members pay an hourly fee of $7.50 and an additional 30 cents per mile. Members can drive the car wherever they need — whether that’s around the block for groceries or up to Montreal for the weekend.
The CarShare program allows Vermonters who rely on cars for transportation to reduce their carbon footprint. Bourdon reports that over 75 percent of CarShare Vermont members belong to zero- or one- vehicle households. About half of that 75 percent belong to zero-vehicle households; in other words, a CarShare vehicle is their only personal vehicle. CarShare not only cuts down on the number of cars on the road, but also reduces dependence on cars. Bourdon notes that, while car ownership naturally makes people want to use their vehicles, CarShare members report up to 40 percent less driving time after joining the program.
In this way, CarShare Vermont works with alternative types of personal and public transportation. Montpelier CarShare member Jill Muhr holds that CarShare is “just a piece of the overall puzzle. This gives folks the freedom to support other means of transportation.” Most CarShare members walk or bicycle to the nearest vehicle “pod.” The CarShare program also allows members who regularly commute a longer distance via public transport — from Burlington to Montpelier, for instance — a way to get around the city of Montpelier during working hours. Entire businesses can become CarShare members; this allows any of their employees to run errands around the city during a lunch hour without bringing a personal vehicle along the commute.
Dan Costin, another Montpelier CarShare member, feels that the CarShare program will help preserve the character of Montpelier as a walking city. As Costin puts it, “it’s important that the downtown area of Montpelier is not overwhelmed with parking lots and cars. The walkability of Montpelier depends on people being able to live close to downtown.” Costin contends that the density of Montpelier’s small buildings could be destroyed by parking lots — fewer cars on Montpelier streets, then, means more space for business and community gatherings. Similarly, Muhr compares participating in CarShare to shopping locally as opposed to at a “big box” store. Both, in her view, are a way to “support the organizations that support the community.”
Saving money is an immediate benefit of the CarShare program. Sharing a car, of course, translates into sharing the expenses of a car. The CarShare Vermont website reports that Vermonters “spend nearly one quarter of their income on transportation, and most of that is on personal vehicles.” CarShare can provide many of the benefits of car ownership without the massive expenses. As Bourdon notes, “When you own a car, you pay for it whether or not you drive it … With car-sharing, you only pay for it when you use it.” As noted, CarShare members generally drive less often than most, which reduces costs even more drastically.
Since April, over 45 Montpelier residents have joined the CarShare program. Two CarShare vehicles are currently available in downtown Montpelier. The two Montpelier CarShare pods are located behind City Hall adjacent to the Blanchard (parking) Lot and near Kellogg-Hubbard Library at the corner of School and Main streets.