20 December 2008

Solar comes to Minneapolis

Whilst the HOURCAR at the 46th Light Rail Station is not yet a plug in Hybrid (look for it in the next couple of weeks) the solar panels at the station are up. For now, and whenever the 46th Street LRT car is out on the road, the panels will feed power back in to the grid to power nearby things like, oh, the light rail!

We had an event with Mayor Rybak and Representative Frank Hornstein (60B) and we will have pictures from that soon!

The HOURCAR in front of the Metro Transit building which has 2kV of solar capacity on the roof.

A closeup of the building.

When not powering the HOURCAR, the panels feed in to the grid, helping to power various local users, including the Hiawatha Line!

And if you think that a few car-powering solar panels can't come close to running the LRT, well, you're partially right. We can't run the whole line. But light rail trains are very efficient (you can see a long website which compares different transportation modes here) so we'd make a dent. For example:

The Combino light rail vehicle [similar in size to the Hiawatha Line] is about the same energy efficiency as a Porsche Carrera GT; the Porsche seats 2, the Combino seats 67 and can carry 180. The efficiency advantage is huge, though the Porsche obviously accelerates better and has a higher top speed!

Obviously a Prius is more efficient than a Porsche. But when you are on the Light Rail, you're in a vehicle as powerful as a sports car, but which carries 50-100 times as many people! That's efficient.

09 December 2008

Word of the year: Hypermiling

In a year when gas prices topped $4.00 per gallon, the word of the year is hypermiling.

What is hypermiling? Well, according to Wikipedia it is:

Hypermiling is a term used in North America that refers to a set of techniques used to maximize fuel economy. Those who practice the techniques are referred to as "hypermilers." The term was originally coined by Wayne Gerdes, who is considered by the media to be one of the top hypermilers in the world, and is known to hold the record for gas mileage in some common vehicles, including 30 miles per gallon in an Acura MDX and 59 mpg in a Honda Accord.

Okay, but HOURCARs are all Priuses, so why hypermile? Well, two reasons:

1. Hypermiling can significantly increase fuel economy even in Priuses. My record is 69.5 mpg over 58 miles. That's right, 60 miles on a gallon with gas to spare.
2. The Prius makes it easy. If you switch to the "consumption" option on the touch screen, the Prius will tell you your current mileage and your mileage every five minutes for the past half hour. This makes it easy to adjust your driving on the fly. By avoiding jackrabbit starts, driving evenly and slowly on the interstate, and not braking unless necessary, you can hypermile, too!

If you reset the mileage at the start of your trip, you can see how well you can do (note that drivers of our two solar-powered plug-in cars have a bit of an advantage). Shoot us an email if you do really well. Pictures are cool, too. We'll post 'em if they're good.

A few tips:

* The optimal speed for the Prius is 41 miles per gallon. Above that speed, physics dictate that the gas engine spin even if it is not powering the drive train, increasing drag.
* During cold weather, mileage will suffer, especially after a cold start. This is because the Prius is optimized for emissions, so the gas engine warms up the catalytic converter to better emissions.
* Drive as smoothly as possible. The Prius's brakes do recover some energy, but braking always loses some energy. If you see a red light ahead, let off the gas and coast, and when you leave the light, accelerate firmly but evenly.
* And, of course, safety first.

For more information:

* The hypermiling website
* An article in Mother Jones about hypermiling.
* A great depiction of how a Prius's powertrain works.
* Stats about watt hours and drag (a bit geeky. Okay, really geeky.)

04 December 2008

Why car sharing works

Here's a chart of a single HOURCAR's use from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.:

Green segments are different reservations. We often see cars with three or four reservations per day (this particular day saw three other cars with four separate reservations each) but I'm not sure I've ever seen five. This means that five people who would have otherwise needed a car each were able to all use the same car. Instead of five parking spaces, one. The average car is used for only about an hour per day, and only by one person. This HOURCAR was used nearly half a dozen times by as many people in one day — and the next day it will be driven by others. This spreads out the cost of insurance and parking and maintenance and depreciation, making the utility of the resource much more efficient.

Car sharing works because it allows for the efficient use of automobiles — and the efficient use of other transportation modes. HOURCAR members bike, walk, take the bus and who knows what else (ski? paddle? skate? This is Minnesota after all) and when they need a car, they hop in and HOURCAR and go. Sometimes five times in a single day.

Update: We've since had a single day with two cars each receiving five reservations, although they were not in use for such solid periods of time. Still, it's great to see the cars being use so efficiently!

26 November 2008

Sunglasses sharing

I was dropping off a car (#15) this evening and fumbling for the overhead light switch when I mistakenly opened the sunglasses holder. Inside I found a pair of sunglasses. Usually this would entail a lost-and-found report and taking the item back to the office, except I then found a note. It read:

HOURCAR shared sunglasses. Left in the car on purpose.

We all know how great it is to share cars, but one of our members is taking it to another level. We at HOURCAR try to foster a sense of community, but that means noting unless the community helps us out. Of course, it seems you are all succeeding at that. So, kudos!

(And if anyone wants to leave sunglasses in other cars, with this type of note, we're all for it!)

By the way, we kind of want to know who left these here. If the member in question wants to email us (info@hourcar.org), go for it. If you want to remain anonymous, that's fine too. But no matter, you're awesome.

12 November 2008

Taking the bus just got easier (thanks to Google)

I've always thought that time passes slowest when you are waiting for the bus. Seconds seem to become minutes; you know you are on a frequent route but until you see the bus or train on the horizon the second hand can't move fast enough. If only you could know exactly when the next bus is coming!

Well, now you can. This summer, MetroTransit launched a tool called "NexTrip" which tracks every bus and train by GPS to tell when they are coming (in real time for the next 20 minutes, scheduled departures thereafter). You can access this information in many ways, including on the MetroTransit website or by calling 612.373.3333, which has live support during the day and automated schedules 24 hours a day (keep pressing 1 when prompted to get the automated schedules).

But perhaps the best way to get the information is on Google Maps. The Twin Cities are now one of several cities in the country where every single bus stop is shown if you zoom in, and if you click on a bus stop, it shows all upcoming departures. Any bus in the Twin Cities. How cool is that?

Here's an example, showing the HOURCAR hub at the Wedge in Minneapolis. If you click the "view larger map" link below and go to Google Maps, you can click on either of those two bus stops to see upcoming trips. It makes taking the bus that much easier; and HOURCAR is there for you when the bus or a bike or your own two feet need a breather.

View Larger Map

07 November 2008


You may remember that we ran a special on election day. It was our hope that one of our politically-connected but car-light members would take advantage and go help people get to the polls or something. Isn't the ultimate car sharing when you use a shared car to share rides with many other people?

It is.

One of our members, Nick Rosencrans, writes:

I was thrilled to see HourCar's promotion on election day. After reading about how I could rent an HourCar at $2.00 an hour and 8¢ a mile, I picked up my telephone. I decided to spend all day volunteering, driving folks who needed a ride to and from the polls.
That night, I drove to the Crowne Plaza in Saint Paul to watch the results come in, along with most media outlets and thousands of other volunteers.

Thanks to HourCar, I was able to drive about a dozen folks to vote, who otherwise couldn't participate in this historic election. Attached are a few pictures I took during the day.

Thanks so much for your service to democracy, to the environment and to the people of Minnesota!

Oh and he took some nifty pictures too:

HOURCAR at the polls.

Nick rockin' the I VOTED sticker.

Nick, thank you for using HOURCAR to help everyone participate in democracy!

[Edit 11/10: As usual, Minnesota led the nation in voting turnout. Ho hum, just another day in the state where nearly 80% of eligible voters go to the polls. Beat that...every other state in the Union!]

31 October 2008


On Tuesday, November 4 (which is election day in case you have forgotten), HOURCAR is helping its members vote. If you need to give an elderly neighbour, friend or relative a ride to the polls, grab an HOURCAR. If you are working a Get Out The Vote campaign, grab an HOURCAR. If you are serving as an election official or poll watcher, grab an HOURCAR.

Each car will have a map of the wards and precincts in its city and a list of local polling places, so vote early (but please, not often).

See more at www.HOURCAR.org

Have a good story from your HOURCAR VOTES experience? Email it to us at info@hourcar.org.

HOURCAR's rates, effective from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (polling hours) are just
$2 per hour and 008¢ per mile.
Find out more at HOURCAR.org

More information on voting:

Statewide precinct finder

Minneapolis precinct map

Saint Paul precinct map

Minneapolis polling places

Ramsey County poll finder

(HOURCAR in no way endorses any particular candidate or party.)

22 October 2008

HOURCAR is so so solar

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman spoke today about HOURCAR as we unveiled the first solar-powered shared car in the world!

We're aggregating news on our home page, and pictures are posted below.
Our 2kW solar panel.

And our plug-in hybrid Prius.

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
Councilmember Russ Stark, Mayor Coleman and Senator Klobuchar

The mayor and the Senator share a laugh.

Senator Klobuchar talks to the press.

Senator Klobuchar goes for a drive. As far as we know, she's the first congress member to drive a solar-powered plug-in hybrid, and definitely the first one in a solar-powered shared car (because it's the first one :)

Senator Klobuchar returns from her trip. HOURCAR's own Christopher rides shotgun.

Senator Klobuchar plugs in the Prius.

21 October 2008

Welcome to the HOURCAR Hubcap Blog

We'll be sharing all kinds of exciting news and information about HOURCAR, car sharing and sustainable transportation. Stay tuned for frequent updates!