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Car sharing is an emerging alternative to ownership

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There is an old saying, “sharing is caring,” but now sharing means convenience, saving money and helping the environment.

Car sharing, that is.

This relatively new concept of car sharing – renting by the hour or overnight – is joining the list of other more common methods of commuter and work-related transportation.

Car sharing, offered by various car rental companies, is becoming a more convenient way for business owners and business people to rent a car, especially in heavily populated inner cities. It’s as easy as going online to a participating company such as Enterprise, Hertz or Zipcar and registering for a yearly membership, which ranges from $25-$100.

Rentals are available by the hour or even overnight, which becomes expedient for short business trips, lunches or meetings. The rental fee for the vehicle can range from about $2 to $9 an hour, plus there is in an initial one-time sign-up fee when renting your first vehicle.

The membership card acts as the key to unlock the vehicle. Once the rental time has expired, the member returns the car to the same spot where it was picked up.

The next person is then able to use the vehicle – hence the name car sharing.

“Car sharing brings three distinct benefits to businesses: financial, environmental and employee,” said Gregory Phillips, spokesman for Enterprise CarShare, which launched in 2007 under the Enterprise Rent-A-Car umbrella.

Pilot projects for car sharing began as early as the 1960s, and the concept was launched in earnest in 1987 in Switzerland and Germany. The idea made its way to North America in 1994.

The first successful car share in the United States was CarSharing-PDX in Portland, Ore., in 1998, according to The Car Sharing Network, a car sharing resource center that provides facts, updates and information for the industry.

According to AAA, in 2012 the total driving costs of owning a car were more than $7,000 per year, which includes gasoline, maintenance and insurance.

For business owners, car sharing could alleviate the need to consume the hefty expenses associated with owning a fleet of cars for associates and clients. For business people, car sharing might alleviate the need to own a car, or own a second car, if he or she were traveling to work in an inner city.

Car sharing not only saves up to 30 percent in transportation costs, it also helps the environment. Each car-share vehicle takes about four to eight privately held cars off the road and reduces car usage of individuals by 50 percent, according to environmentalists at Earth Easy, an organization whose mission is to help people improve their quality of life by offering information and products for sustainable living.

Enterprise CarShare is offered in various cities across the nation, including Philadelphia.

“Enterprise CarShare provides cost savings and better management of fleet and business travel programs, enhances sustainability programs and reduction of carbon footprint,” Phillips said. “And since the program offers automated, on-site and paperless transactions, employees find it easy to rent for personal use and business travel.”

According to Phillips, there are no immediate plans to add car sharing in the Greater Lehigh Valley – but the company can customize a car-sharing program to fit the specific needs of businesses in the area.

Hertz also offers car sharing, and in June launched Hertz 24/7, a global initiative.

“At Hertz, we offered a car-sharing service since 2008,” said Paula Rivera, manager of public affairs at Hertz. “However, since then our service has grown and has morphed into a combined car-rental/car-sharing experience, known as Hertz 24/7.”

Commuter Services of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization, helps to guide commuters with the best forms of alternate transportation. It also reaches out to employers to help their workforce find better options to commute.

“The way that car sharing relates to our mission is that it is a great way to give workers the freedom to get to work by transit, carpool, vanpool, bike, whatever,” said Brandy Heilman Sweitzer, spokeswoman for Commuter Services. “And they know they will be able to use the car over lunch for errands, to go to meetings during the day or even possibly if an emergency comes up.”

In the Greater Lehigh Valley, there are few formal car-sharing operations.

But there is at least one opportunity: RelayRides, a more informal way to car share. It allows anyone to register and then list his or her personal vehicle to be leased. The fee the owner will receive ranges from $5-$20 an hour or $30-$100 a day.

Since car sharing is not offered to any large extent in the Greater Lehigh Valley – and because Hertz’ program in the region is so new – some area businesses have never heard of the concept. Some are intrigued by the idea, while others believe there is no need for it.

Businesses such as Victaulic, in Northampton County, own their own fleet of cars for use by employees and customers.

“I have read about car sharing and been in seminars where I have learned about it,” said Dan Geiger, security manager at Victaulic. “We would have no reason to consider it as an alternate means of transportation.”

A spokesperson for a Berks County company, who asked not to be identified, said the concept “seems like it would work best in an urban area and is not something that would work for our company.”

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