04 October 2009

Prius floor mat recall

You may have heard about the floor mat recall for millions of vehicles, including the mainstay of the HOURCAR fleet, the 2004-2009 Prius. We were aware of this problem several years ago and for that reason had fabric floor mats on the driver's side instead of rubber ones, which were more prone to sticking the accelerator. We've since replaced these with molded plastic mats, which, since they are molded, are unable to slide up and cause problems. We are investigating whether we need to take any further measures with this latest recall.

Drive safe!

23 September 2009

Cast Your Vote for HOURCAR

You can help HOURCAR raise funds this fall by taking part in two exciting
campaigns being run by our local business supporters. And as you know, more
money means more HOURCARs—something we all love.

Your first opportunity to support HOURCAR is through the Wedge Community
Co-op’s WedgeShare grant program. If you are a Wedge member-owner, please
don’t miss your chance to vote for HOURCAR when you receive your WedgeShare
ballot in the October/November newsletter. Voting will begin approximately
October 1 and will close on October 28 at the Co-op’s annual meeting. If
you’re not a member-owner, check out the amazing Wedge at
www.wedge.coop, or visit them in person at
2105 Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis.

Winning a WedgeShare grant would mean that we could purchase and place a
second HOURCAR in the Co-op’s neighborhood!

Your second opportunity to support us is Patagonia’s Voice Your Choice
Program. Patagonia will award three prizes of $2,500, $1,500, or $1,000 to
local environmental groups. The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) with
its HOURCAR program has been selected as a recipient. The amount of the
prize we receive is based on the number of customer votes cast for our

Your job? Visit the Patagonia store at 1648 Grand Avenue in Saint Paul (just
west of Snelling Avenue next to Macalester College) between September 24 and
October 24 and cast your vote for the NEC and HOURCAR! No purchase is
required, but you might enjoy browsing Patagonia’s full line of hiking,
climbing, fly fishing, and other silent sports apparel. Patagonia’s mission
is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to
inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia has
hosted an HOURCAR hub for three years and has been a terrific supporter.
More at http://www.Patagonia.com.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and for your willingness to go the extra mile
for the NEC and HOURCAR. If you have any questions, call Mary Morse at the
NEC: (651) 221-4462 Ext. 113, or marym[at]TheNEC.org.

19 August 2009

State Park of the week: C. R. Magney

The next state park takes us far up the North Shore, through Two Harbors, Lutsen and Grand Marais to Judge CR Magney State Park. Judge Magney was the mayor of Duluth in the late 1910s and, later in life, an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was also a driving force in the establishment of many of the parks along the North Shore and his favorite, along the Brule River, was named for him.

The Park has any facilities and sights to see. It is almost a recent archaeological dig, with the foundations for a WPA camp from the 1930s interspersed amongst the campground. There is lakeshore along Superior (with wonderful pebble beaches all the way down to Grand Marais) and a beautiful section of the Superior Hiking Trail. The most famous sight in the park is, however, Devil's Kettle Falls.

The Brule, like many rivers of the North Shore, is rather placid until it tumbles over a basalt (I think) formation on its way down to the lake. However, while most rivers go over a falls and then proceed onwards, the Brule shakes it up a bit. The river splits in two over the falls. The eastern half falls on to a ledge, splashes, and goes on its merry way. The western half falls in to a deep, dark, foreboding pothole and seems to disappears. No one knows exactly where it goes, although it probably courses through groundwater cracks back in to the Brule or in to Superior a couple miles downstream. Still, it is quite something to stand at the top of the falls and watch half a river disappear.

On a warm day, of course, you can swim in the river. Not in the Devil's Kettle, but downstream below "Upper Falls" (which is, paradoxically, the lower of the two main falls). You do have to hike in a mile, which takes you up a steep hill on bluffs overlooking the falls and then down a staircase to the swimming hole. (Devil's Kettle is up another pitch, but well worth the trip.) This discourages some visitors, but its still a popular place. For solitude, however, you can walk north along the Brule River, where the Superior Hiking Trail becomes much narrower and less-used. Or, spot a car at the northern end of the park and hike downhill—you can leave a bike at the bottom to get back.

Devil's Kettle isn't particularly close to the Twin Cities—plan on 5 hours if you don't hit any traffic—but it is one of the more unique spots in the state and well worth a visit.

12 August 2009

170? 230? What do all these numbers mean?

You may have seen the recent headlines:

Dakota County students say hybrid gets 170 mpg
G.M. Puts Electric Car’s City Mileage in Triple Digits

Everyone is excited about high-mileage plug-in hybrids (GM has run a long, mysterious advertising campaign touting the 230 mpg figure). That's all well and good, but, really, is there a good way to measure energy use in miles per gallon when a fair amount of the energy in these cars is measured in miles but not in gallons? HOURCAR's own plug-in hybrids (oh, yes, we're way ahead of the curve; we got our first back in '06) are advertised as 100+ mpg and, under the right circumstances, achieve that. Sometimes. So, should we take all these new numbers with a grain of salt?


As this page has discussed before, mileage estimates are just that: estimates. They are very variable. And the higher the mileage, the more variability will occur. Especially since the EPA has not yet finalized how they are going to measure PHEVs. GM's own Volt site has the disclaimer that
230 MPG and 25 kWh per 100 miles driven represents a preliminary GM est. of the final approved city rating; actual MPG and electricity consumption will vary based on many factors including driving habits, weather and road conditions and operation of electrical systems in the vehicle.
That's a pretty big group of ifs! It depends on the final rating, the actual consumption and many additional factors. Maybe 230 is a best-case scenario. Maybe not. But there's really no way to know.

The news articles, when you read past the lede, are not much more forgiving. The Times says:
The rating number, based on methodology drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, is somewhat abstract, one auto specialist said, given that much of the city driving of electric vehicles will rely solely on the battery charge.

Figures for highway driving and combined city and highway use have not been completed for the Volt, but G.M.’s chief executive, Fritz Henderson, told reporters and analysts at a briefing on Tuesday that the car was expected to get more than 100 miles a gallon in combined city and highway driving.
100 mpg is slightly less than 230, and these numbers are coming from the same folks who, a few short years ago, thought the Hummer was the future of American motoring.

CNN goes to point out that this number has not been vetted:
The Environmental Protection Agency … says it has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM.
It goes on to point out that
Fuel economy for hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius is displayed in the same way as it is for any other gasoline-powered vehicle. It gets 46 mpg, for example, versus 19 mpg for a V-6 Ford Mustang.

That standard works because all the energy used by the Prius ultimately comes from burning gasoline. The Prius just uses that energy more efficiently than other cars do. The Chevrolet Volt, on other hand, runs on electricity that comes from two sources -- a battery as well as a gasoline engine.

When gasoline is providing the power, the Volt might get as much as 50 mpg. But that mpg figure would not take into account that the car has already gone 40 miles with no gas at all. So let's say the car is driven 50 miles in a day. For the first 40 miles, no gas is used and during the last 10 miles, 0.2 gallons are used. That's the equivalent of 250 miles per gallon. But, if the driver continues on to 80 miles, total fuel economy would drop to about 100 mpg. And if the driver goes 300 miles, the fuel economy would be just 62.5 mpg.
And there is, of course, the question of where all that electricity comes from. If it's from wind and solar, huzzah, it's clean. If it's from coal, as much of our energy is, it's not so clear-cut. Plus, how will a Volt measure up against the upcoming all-electric Nissan Leaf and rumored Prius Hybrid from Toyota? And how do you measure the efficiency—and pollution—put out by an all-electric vehicle?

Dave Friedman, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, may sum it up best saying that
Your mileage may vary means more to the owner of a plug-in than any other car on the market.
He also points out that conventional hybrids, paired with better engines and transmissions, will have more of an effect in the short term.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, there are couple of takeaways. The first is that while the future is closer, it certainly isn't here, and any numbers you see you should treat with a healthy level of skepticism (as well as a similar level of excitement). The second is that as we increase overall efficiency, how you drive will have more and more of an effect on efficiency.

Finally, as always, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to drive less. The marginal increase in emissions by taking the bus or train is almost zero, since they are running anyway. The marginal increase in emissions of walking or biking is negligible. In other words, it's great if your car gets 100 mpg, but your bike does a heck of a lot better than that.

11 August 2009

State Park of the week: Afton

We've been a bit remiss bringing your highlights of the state parks. Afton is close, its terrain is varied and scenery quite nice. As you drive through the gates (no need to stop with a daily rate HOURCAR) and down the road, you go from farmland to prairie to deep, green forest, and then back up to prairie. From the parking lot, there are miles of trails for hiking, running, and cross country skiing (and horseback riding, but I don't think you can carry a horse in an HOURCAR).

The main trail goes down to the beach on the Saint Croix. It's nice for swimming, and the water is temperate, although it is a bit choppy with lots of boat traffic on the river. There are buoys which keep the boats out of the swimming area (and yes, if you want to reenact the lyrics of a song which we can't print here, we do climb buoys instead of trees), though, so it's perfectly safe. The trails further along the river see fewer users, and while solitude can't be found on a summer weekend, a quiet walk through the woods is definitely in the cards. Up above the swimming area are a few dozen hike-in campsites, some in the woods and some up on the prairie. A word to the wise about these: they're all uphill, both ways.

Come fall, the colors will come to Afton, and in the winter, if the snow flies, the trails will be groomed (although they generally need a bit of snow to open). And the best part is that the park is only half an hour from Saint Paul, so it's an easy day trip (daily-rate HOURCARs can, of course, be rented by the hour) if you just have a couple hours to spend and want to get away from the rush. And, yes, you could bike there, too, although it'd be a bit of a haul; after 25 miles each way on a bike, all you might want to do is take a dip in the river.

23 July 2009

Use HOURCAR with Metro Transit Trip Planner

Have you ever wanted to find a bus route from an HOURCAR hub, but been unsure of exactly where the hub was (by address) or which routes passed by? Well, worry no more: HOURCAR hubs are loaded in to the Metro Transit trip planner database, which is easily accessed off the Metro Transit home page. You don't even have to type in the whole name of the HOURCAR hub; in fact, the easiest thing to do is just type in "HOURCAR", which then shows a list of all the hubs in the database, and you can choose the one you want.

Then, once you've chosen a destination, Metrotransit will show you the bus schedule, and even the next bus coming along the route. How simple is that?!

(Do note: some of our newer hubs are not in this database yet, but we are working to get them added.)

State Park of the week: Tettegouche

For our second state park, we'll go a bit further afield from the Metro to the North Shore of Lake Superior. While the 66 Minnesota state parks are scattered pretty well throughout the state, the one road with the most parks is highway 61 from Duluth north to the Canadian border, with eight parks (and four smaller waysides) along the big lake.

Not too far up the lake is Tettegouche Park, one of the gems of the system. The park contains miles of ski trails, hiking trails, paddling, and ample opportunities for camping (both drive-in and hike-in). In addition, there are several cabins you can rent by the night set back in the woods for a nice getaway from the city without leaving behind all of the creature comforts of home.

The park also has several beautiful bodies of water, in addition to Lake Superior. One is the Baptism River. Like most of the rivers of the north shore, the Baptism falls down the escarpment near the lake. But instead of a deep canyon or a series of rapids, which are prevalent on many rivers, the Baptism falls over three impressive waterfalls, including High Falls which, at 70 feet, is the highest waterfall entirely within the state.

A bit further inland are several lakes, most of which are only accessible by foot. They are only open to unpowered craft and, despite intensive logging 100 years ago, the lakes are cool, calm and pristine for a paddle or swim. In the southern reaches of the park, Bear Lake sits in a deep gorge with deep, blue, clear and not-that-cold water. Whether you walk to it from the Tettegouche trailhead or from the nearby town of Silver Bay, it is a wonderful destination for a hot summer day (and it has a rope swing, to boot). It's one of my favorite sections of the Superior Hiking Trail, which winds through the park.

Tettegouche isn't much over three hours from the Twin Cities (a day trip is possible, but a lot of driving) and, of course, parking is free in any daily rate HOURCAR!

22 July 2009

Legislature exempts HOURCAR members from 5% fee

Members of car sharing organizations across the country have to pay rental car taxes – in Minnesota it is a 6.2 % tax. At HOURCAR, we have always found this really irritating. Legislators know that most rental car usage comes from people visiting from outside the state border. So, states enact rental car taxes as a way of “exporting” taxes to people that don’t vote in their state, whereas, car sharing organizations are made up of local people who reduce their impact on the environment by walking, biking and taking transit for many of their daily trips. Just the kind of impact that the state intended when it set carbon reduction goals.

It gets worse. When a rental car company has more than 20 cars, they have to charge an additional 5% fee on top of the sales taxes and rental car tax. This past winter, we realized our hopes of expanding would have meant charging our members this additional fee. Thankfully, we found some state legislators who recognized that adding another 5% fee to our members’ bills would not be fair. So, this year, as part of the one non-controversial tax bill to be signed into law, HOURCAR was officially exempt from the 5% fee. We recently received word from the Department of Revenue that the change is official so we will not have to institute the charge.

Several of the legislators told us that they would like to exempt car sharing from the entire rental car tax – including the 6.2 % our members already pay – but unfortunately, in this impossible budget year, they would not have been able to move a bill that would reduce current state tax collections.

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank the legislators who worked to make this happen.

Our chief authors, Rep. Jim Davnie and Sen. John Marty carried the bill through committee and dogged it to the very end. Sen. Scott Dibble, a co-author, ensured that it made it through a Tax conference committee and onto the Senate Floor. These three legislators made certain that the HOURCAR provision was eventually rolled into the one tax policy bill with the noncontroversial items, so that it would be signed into law.

Also deserving our appreciation are the two chairs of the Tax committees, Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Ann Lenczewski who included the provision in their omnibus tax bills. Several other legislators, by co-authoring the bill or working behind the scenes, helped along the way, including Sen. Larry Pogemiller, Rep. Frank Hornstein, Rep. Melissa Hortman and Rep. Erin Murphy. HOURCAR thanks all the legislators who voted for the final package and Governor Pawlenty for signing it. Also, we thank the people at the Department of Revenue for confirming that HOURCAR members are now exempt from the 5% fee.

There is a growing understanding of what our members are doing. We expected the same kind of confusion about car sharing that HOURCAR staff first experienced when they took this issue to the legislature. But, four years later, people are beginning to understand car sharing and the contribution that our members are making to the environment.

15 July 2009

State park of the week: Fort Snelling

We recently put state park passes in all of the HOURCARs with daily rates. And each week we are going to be featuring a park the blog. Our first featured state park: Fort Snelling.

"Fort Snelling?" you might say. "Hey, that's right here in the Cities! What's the bloody point? Who would drive an HOURCAR there? Why not bike—it's right on a bunch of trails! Heck, you can get there easily on the bus (from Saint Paul) or the Light Rail (from Minneapolis)!"

Well, that's kind of the point. Most of our members, if they wanted to go to Fort Snelling (or Minneahaha Falls; bet you didn't know it was originally a state park), would grab their bike or Go-To card. Why bother driving? It's right in our backyard. And it's pretty darned nice.

There are miles of walking and bike trails to enjoy amongst the lakes at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. The trails are groomed for skiing in the winter (throw your skis in the HOURCAR when the snow flies for these or any number of other trails). You can get lost in the woods, that is, until a plane buzzes over or you run in to a bridge abutment. And it's wicked easy to get there.

12 July 2009

Minnesota State Park Passes

HOURCAR recently put Minnesota state park passes in each of our daily rate cars. Each week, we'll profile a state park where you can drive the HOURCARs and not worry about paying the fee there.

Minnesota has 66 state parks and is the second oldest state park system in the country (did you know that?). The range from waterfalls to prairies, dense forests to deep underground. And a bunch are along some big lake.

If you have your own pictures from our state parks (whether you got there by HOURCAR or not, although pictures with an HOURCAR, or HOURCAR t-shirt, are great), send them in to us and we'll be glad to post 'em!

11 July 2009

Bikes and transit at the MIA

This sounds like too much fun: bike valets and a bike-and-transit-related Third Thursday at the MIA on the 16th. No need to drive an HOURCAR there, although there are some in the neighborhood should you need them.

Bike on by for a rousing good time. Enjoy free bike valet service at the Third Avenue entrance. Create your own "vintage" French bike poster. Take a self-guided tour celebrating all things transit. View the 1948 Italian Neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. Check out Ruby3 bike-friendly fashions by local design maven Anna Lee. And gear up for a fabulous alchemy of rock, folk, and country by acclaimed local band Kid Dakota.

Also, enter to win a Surly bike, Twin Six gear, and Nutcase helmets!

09 July 2009

HOURCAR welcomes car #21

A few weeks ago we told you about a new HOURCAR hub coming to Kingfield in Minneapolis. We've been driving our spiffy new red car around for a couple weeks now, and with everything ready to roll, you can too! Car #21, a red Honda Fit, goes in to service at 38th and Nicollet, right on the 18 and 23 bus lines, today. We hope that it will serve many of you who live in Uptown and southwards (and we are working on new cars there, don't worry), especially if you need to make trips south of town. We also hope that it will entice a bunch of Kingfielders to join in on the car-light lifestyle and take some vehicles off the road!

The Kingfield car is partially funded by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association through a Minneapolis Climate Change grant and the McKnight Foundation. Our thanks to the folks at the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, the city of Minneapolis and the McKnight foundation.

(Also, if you want to help sponsor an HOURCAR, we still have McKnight challenge grants hanging around, but they are going fast. email us for more information.)

We'll be out and about in the neighborhood promoting the HOURCAR, so come drop by and get more information or just say hi!

And if you want to join HOURCAR, you can sign up here!

View Larger Map

02 July 2009

HOURCAR's 4th annual member survey

Last week, HOURCAR turned four. In late June of 2005, HOURCAR launched with half a dozen cars, a couple dozen members and some hopes and dreams. Every year since, we've surveyed our members to find out, well, all sorts of information. We like to find out if anyone has given up their cars, if people bike and walk more (or less) and what our members think we could do better.

First of all, thank you to everyone who participated. We had over 300 survey responses (and congrats to Nadya, Becky, Rosalyn and Stephanie for winning the four $100 driving credits we drew as thanks for completing the survey), not a bad turnout.

Now to some of the nitty-gritty. Is HOURCAR getting cars off the road? Yup. More than half of our respondents were car-free before HOURCAR and intend to stay that way, and another 25% have either sold their car since joining or decided not to acquire an additional car.

We also asked people to estimate how many miles they drive per year (overall, not just in an HOURCAR) versus the amount they drove before joining. Now, this is somewhat sketchy because these are self-reported estimates, but of the 188 respondents (less than a quarter of the membership), the aggregate savings (including those who drove more) were 370,000 miles per year, more than are put on the entire HOURCAR fleet.

Then there's walking and biking. (HOURCAR loves walking and biking.) One third of HOURCAR members report that, since joining HOURCAR, they walk and bike more, only a few (fewer than five percent) report walking and biking less. And how often are HOURCAR members hitting the pavement? Well, 58% of members say they walk somewhere daily, and 83% report walking for transportation at least twice a week. 29% bike daily, and more than half bike at least twice weekly. 58% of HOURCAR members ride transit at least twice a week, more than half of those ride daily. Plus, most of our members use transit frequently to get around.

And then there's the use of a personal vehicle. When we asked how often our members drove one, 65% chose "never."

Check back soon for some fun anecdotes our members sent in!

Newer, shorter Facebook page

A few weeks ago Facebook announced that users could register their own, personal Facebook usernames. Huzzah. Thus, their facebook URL would be facebook.com/[their name]. First come, first served.

Some of us were fast on the uptake (one HOURCAR staff member beat out the other five people with his last name). Some didn't care and some aren't even on Facebook (gosh!). It took us a bit longer to realize that you can do the same thing for pages (like HOURCAR's) but today we snagged
for ever and ever. The end.

24 June 2009

Oh, the places you will go: Chicago

The Windy City. Second City. The City of Big Shoulders.

Whatever you call it, it's the closest big city to Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and even though the El runs all night and the buses generally come every ten minutes, you might need a car while you're there, right?
(Okay, maybe not. Traffic is atrocious and parking is a nightmare. But that's why shared cars have reserved parking spots)

In any case, if you do need a car, our friends at I-Go are there for you. Give us a shout in advance, and we can set the whole thing up for you. I-Go's offices are right off the El in Wicker Park if you need to pick up a key card (which can also be mailed to you in advance), and with about 200 cars, there's many for you to choose.

So if you plan to go down to Chicago, you car can be waiting for you there, too.

19 June 2009

What's black and white and red all over?

Why the newest HOURCAR, of course: a red Honda Fit with black and white decals. It's going in to the Kingfield Neighborhood in Minneapolis (soon)! And we have your first exclusive pictures.

Stay tuned for its exact location (it'll be near 38th and Nicollet); it will be launched in early July. Or, if you live nearby (or near any other HOURCAR), Sign up now!

15 June 2009

Car funny

Sometimes, we just need a laugh.

What if Ikea bought GM out of bankruptcy court?


12 June 2009

HOURCAR member rewards

You use your HOURCAR key fob to save money on transportation, and now you can use it to save money at a growing network of local businesses! You don't have to be tempted to use an HOURCAR (if you don't want to), as most of them are an easy walk, bike ride or bus trip from our hubs. Just show your key fob and let the savings begin! Here are our current partners; and keep an eye on the Hubcap blog for more. And in the vein of social media, we'll provide links to a bunch of their Facebook pages so you can be a "fan" of theirs. (You're already a fan of HOURCAR, right? Good.)

Jerabeks New Bohemian Coffee House
63 West Winifred Street, Saint Paul.
(Jerebeks on Facebook)
Offer: 10% off with key fob in addition to 10% with your own cup

Common Good Books
165 Western Avenue, Saint Paul.
(Common Good Books on Facebook)
Offer: 10% off any item except magazines, newspapers, and specialty items

Bryant Lake Bowl
810 West Lake Street, Minneapolis.
(Bryant Lake Bowl on Facebook)
Offer: Buy 1 game of bowling, get 1 free. Up to 3 games at one visit. Shoe rental included.

Red Stag Supper Club
509 1st Avenue NE, Minneapolis.
(Red Stag on Facebook)
Offer: Complimentary Happy Hour Drink anytime. 1 drink per guest per visit. Includes select wine, taps, and specialty cocktails.

Park Square Theatre
20 W 7th Place, Saint Paul.
(Park Square on Facebook)
Offer: $10 off any adult ticket for any performance

Bibelot Shops
in Saint Paul: Grand & Lexington, Saint Anthony Park
in Minneapolis: Linden Hills, Northeast
(Bibelot Shops on Facebook)
Offer: 20% off one item. (Cannot be combined with any other coupon or discount.)

Anodyne Coffee House
4301 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis
Offer: Buy 1, get 1 half off PLUS 10% with your own cup

Everyday People Clothing Exchange
1599 Selby Avenue, Saint Paul
Offer: 15% off total purchase

Fast and Furless
2615 E Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis
Offer: 10% off

History Theatre
30 E. 10th Street, Saint Paul
(History Theatre on Facebook)
Offer: $5 off a regular priced ticket for 2009-2010 season (Cannot be combined with any other discount)

Events throughout the Twin Cities
Offer: $5 off your first event

08 June 2009

Cool bike watch

Here at HOURCAR we are always interested in what the next new automobile trend is going to be. But what really gets some of our staff jazzed up, however, is cool bikes.

On Friday afternoon we walked out of the office and saw this bike parked on the rack. My first reaction was, "oh, look, an old yellow bike." But then I got closer. This is one of the most fantastic paint jobs I have ever seen: the bike is painted, with excruciating detail, as a New York Taxicab (although with slightly outdated rates, from before the last fare increase in 2004).

It looks like a yellow bike, but what's the checkered stripe?

And fares?

I should hope so, as I don't know how many people have taken rides on this taxicab for $1.50 per mile.

05 June 2009

Oh, the places you will go: San Francisco

Are you going to San Francisco? In addition to wearing flowers in your hair (a reference to a very old song), did you know that you can share cars there, too?

That's right, in the City by the Bay. Also in Mad City (Madison), the cities of Big Shoulders and Brotherly Love (Chicago and Philly), the Mile-High City (Denver), by the Gorges (Ithaca), the Queen City (Toronto), and others, even Down Under. It's part of the reciprocal memberships offered as part of your HOURCAR membership. Let us know in advance and we'll contact the car sharing organization in the city to which you are traveling, and we'll set you up to drive there without having to pay sign-up costs for their program.

(Do note, qualifications may vary for different programs, and we need to know at least a week beforehand to get you on your way.)

An HOURCAR staff member recently was in San Francisco and, camera in tow, dropped by to see the local car sharing service, City Car Share (Locals there refer to San Francisco as "the City") and the sights as well, including a genuine Twin Cities Rapid Transit Streetcar on Market Street.

And if you go anywhere and share cars, send us your stories and photos and we'll be glad to post them. Or post them yourself at the HOURCAR Facebook page.

The green roof at the new Academy of Sciences Museum; you can walk up on to it and gaze off at the hills around.

A butterfly in the museum's great rainforest exhibit.

Sporting the HOURCAR t-shirt in a City Car Share parking spot. (The car was out.)

The view from under the Bay Bridge, where it was sunny.

A red Fit in the CityCarShare fleet.

04 June 2009

Bikes > Cars

The recession has hit everyone, including bike makers. However, times are especially tight for auto makers, who have seen their sales plummet enough that there were more bikes sold in the first quarter of this year (2.6 million) than cars (2.5 million).

Not bad. With gas headed back up (2.50 and rising) pedal power is the way to go. Especially since it hasn't rained here for a month (okay, we do need the rain).

03 June 2009

What's your Walkscore?

According to the website Walkscore.com, ours is 98. Well, for two of our cars, anyway. #6 and #10 score 98 out of a possible 100. The rest of the HOURCAR fleet range as low as 66.

The average for the whole fleet is 87, meaning that we are "very walkable" and close to a "walker's paradise" overall. Of course, the site has its limitations: directions are as the crow flies and it sometimes misses certain stores in categories (like, you know, the Wedge and Mississippi Market Coops in "grocery stores").

They recently ranked the 40 largest cities (*) in the country (since Minneapolis and Saint Paul are separate, neither made the cut; an oversight on Walkscore's part) and the winner was San Francisco, which scores an eminently walkable 86, followed by New York, Boston and Chicago. (They have some pretty nice maps, too.) So, does that mean that HOURCAR is more walkable than San Francisco? Discuss.

(*) Why they did this I do not know. More pertinent would have been the central cities of the 40 largest metro areas in the country. But their methodology is their methodology (and, hey, it says almost nothing about access to jobs, which is probably the most important aspect of a location); perhaps it would make sense to contact them and tell them to please rank the Twin Cities, if only because we'd find it interesting.

11 May 2009

Smart planning and smart savings ($9400!)

Here are two sweet articles which have crossed our desk.

First, you all might want to drive the HOURCAR more since, according to the American Public Transit Association, you're saving money versus owning a car. A lot of money. I mean, we knew that you'd save, but $9407 a year? Wow. Yeah, if you drive a long distance and pay $200 a month for parking, it will cost.

$9407 is a lot of money. It's a pretty sweet vacation. Or three. It's $180 a week, twenty-six bucks a day. According to APTA, you could drive the HOURCAR three or four times a day and still come out ahead. That's a pretty damn good deal.


Second, from the Times comes a story about car-free suburbs in Germany. We like good development, and we like car-free.

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community. Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.
That's pretty cool. If you make car ownership difficult and expensive, people will turn to cleaner, greener options.

As a result, 70 percent of Vauban’s families do not own cars, and 57 percent sold a car to move here.
Hey, this is about the same proportions as the HOURCAR membership base.

“When I had a car I was always tense. I’m much happier this way,” said Heidrun Walter, a media trainer and mother of two, as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor.
Now, if only we could have Minneapolis sound the same way (you know, other than the Greenway).

Vauban, home to 5,500 residents within a rectangular square mile, may be the most advanced experiment in low-car suburban life.
And, maybe, we can get there. Minneapolis's population density is 6,700 and Saint Paul's is 5,400. Not the highest around (66,000 in Manhattan) but not bad.

For trips to stores like Ikea or the ski slopes, families buy cars together or use communal cars rented out by Vauban’s car-sharing club.
And, yes, they do have car sharing (of course!).

Wave of the future, folks, wave of the future!

29 April 2009

That's not Green we can believe in

Perhaps you read Failblog and noticed a "Going Green Fail" they posted. Well, it's below:

Oh, that is so wrong on so many levels I won't even start. Eco Smart makes energy saving products like tankless water heaters which actually do save energy. But to plaster their name on a Hummer? Poor form, guys, poor form.

Of course, someone presciently pointed out that (877) 47 GO GREEN truncates to (877) 474-OGRE. So if you want a water heater, just dial the Hummer-driving ogres as Eco-Smart.

19 April 2009

Who else doesn't own a car?

Two top Obama administration officials, it turns out. In today's New York Times, we find out that Ezekiel Emanuel and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu don't own cars (although Chu is now forced to be driven around by a security detail, and he "doesn't feel good about it.")

No word on if they are car sharers, but when our leaders eschew car ownership, perhaps times are a-changin'.

By the way, the Magazine this week is themed as the Green Issue, and it's a pretty good read.

And, yes, Emanuel is the brother of Chief of Staff, Rahm. Their other brother, Ari, the basis for Ari Gold on the teevee show Entourage, graduated from Macalester College, which is, of course, an HOURCAR Hub.

02 April 2009

Driving hybrid

There's an interesting story on NPR this morning (perhaps you heard it? It seems a lot of our cars are tuned to NPR.) about how driving style matters—a lot—when you are driving a plug-in hybrid.
"Oh-oh. You see that heavy foot right there? You just got the gas motor to come on at 20 miles an hour," she says.

That's a total no-no if you want to get the most miles per gallon. You want to rely on the battery and keep the gas motor off. At 20 mph, there's no reason for it to kick in — unless you have a heavy foot, which, apparently, I do.

"There's no need to just kind of punch it. It'll go," Fahenstock says. "You're really not going to get to your destination any sooner. Why do you need to accelerate so quickly?"

The two solar-powered plug-in hybrid HOURCARs are of a similar (if not the same) design, and how you drive them definitely makes a big difference. If you take them out on the freeway at 75 mph, drive with jackrabbit starts, or are a complete leadfoot, your mileage will likely be subpar. If you drive them gently, accelerate slowly, and do your best to not engage the gas engine (especially at speeds below 42 mph—when the gas engine spins up no matter), you'll do better.

And, of course, every Prius in the HOURCAR fleet has a nifty screen which lets you know how efficiently you drive. (Consensus is that if these were mandated in every car in the country, fuel consumption would decline appreciably.) Next time you're out in a car, reset the mileage, and when you are done, if you have driven well, send us a picture of the screen with the great milage and we'll post it here. I'd say we'd give the best mileage a free t-shirt but … all of our members already get t-shirts!

24 March 2009

Cars you will not see in the HOURCAR fleet

We read, as I'm sure many of you did, about the Tata Nano in the New York Times. It's a small car, gets decent mileage (although emissions are not great, to reach the $2000 price tag things like a catalytic converter are more expendable), and lacks amenities like power steering and airbags and wheels larger than "dinner plates." We weren't chomping at the bit to grab one but were further deterred when one of our staff made the following comparison to another cutesily-named car, the Cozy Coupe II:


17 March 2009

Give 'em 3!

It's warm(er)! Which means that a lot more folks are going to grab their bikes and hit the trails, and the roads.

We know that HOURCAR members are, on the whole, walkers and bikers, so I'm sure that people are good about yielding right of way at crosswalks, marked and unmarked, but did you know that there are also legal requirements for passing bicycles?

Yup, according to Minnesota state law, three feet is necessary:
(3) the operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on the roadway shall leave a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet clearance, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.

That's not to say that there isn't a whole bit of statute regarding the operation of a bicycle, most of which is common sense (staying to the right, using lights at night). Only a bit is arcane, like not attaching yourself to a streetcar (ha, like we have those anymore). And cyclists do have to obey traffic laws, including stop signs (even if this is honored in the breach by some), although there's no law against passing four light-cycles of traffic on Lyndale at rush hour, and no law against chuckling when you bike over I-94 when it is a parking lot in both directions. There is some talk in the house last session about letting cyclists run lights and stop signs (when safe), but it doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.

So oil your chain, adjust your brake lines (or in my case replace your cogs, chain and casette) and get ready to ride, and if you're driving, especially in an HOURCAR, make sure to give bicyclists three feet of room. We appreciate it.

Some safe cycling links:

* State statute
* Info from MNDot
* Info from the Twin Cities Bicycling Club

07 March 2009

Keep an ear out

It's getting to be that time of year again. The sun is out later, the snow is melting (at least it is melting more quickly) and when you go out for more than five minutes you can still feel your fingers and toes. Soon, more and more of us will hit the streets, on bikes without studded tires and shoes which stay dry for more than a block.

It's great to see spring springing, and I more than anyone am excited about biking in to HOURCAR HQ every day, but it's time to remember that not only are we more likely to be distracted when driving by a phone or an iPod (phones in the car are legal, headphones are not, for what it's worth), but that it applies to walking too.

NPR had a piece a couple weeks ago about this. It turns out that we use more than one of our senses when walking or cycling. Having earbuds in blocks out a lot of other sound, like the bus approaching or the light rail train coming down the tracks or the hybrid HOURCAR coasting to a stop for a pedestrian (I'll assume). So go out, and enjoy the fresh air, and bring your music. It's probably fine if you are walking around Isles, but think twice about blasting your tunes if you are crossing a lot of busy streets.

(Am I a hypocrite? Well, yes, a couple days back I listened to my iPod walking from the 63 bus up to our office. There was only one main street, but I'll think twice going forward.)

27 February 2009

Kevin rescues the Fleet Coordinator in the aftermath of "Snowmageddon"

After 8 inches of snow last night, the real work began. At least 10 HOURCARs would need to be dug out of the snow. The HOURCAR team had their instructions and the four of us got to work. I took my fancy "steel core" shovel from home, thinking it would make for quicker work.

The first car I went to was #16, North Loop. The cobblestone streets around the hub were curiously absent of snow. And so was the Yaris. It was as if the winds had blown a path to the door of the car. I brushed off what little snow was there and high-tailed it back to my warm car.

I made my way to car #4, expecting it to be plowed in. Driving through the slushy oatmeal of snow on the road was an adventure. All the melting has made the roads very slick under the new snow. Other than a good four foot wide swath of packed snow blocking the driveway, the parking lot is clear. There is a small path of snow around the car, but nothing even ON the vehicle. Shovel snow from beneath the tires. Back into the warm car, on to the next one.

And thats when it happened. My car got stuck in the driveway. No worries, get out, get the shovel, start digging; I've lived in the Twin Cities my entire life — I can do this. The snow is like pebbles of cement though, and as I dig I hear a crack. My shovel looked like a broken window, cracked from the handle and spidering down through the plastic blade.

As I surveyed the situation to see where I could hand dig, he came running across the busy street, carrying a small steel spade. He started to dig around my tires, and we worked together to rock the car and dig out the belly of my jalopy, trying to time everything to the traffic on Park Avenue. Finally we both felt the car lurch out of the snowbank. He gave me a thumbs up, and had to get his name. Kevin. Thanks Kevin!

On to the last car, #17 at Augsburg. Again, the lot was plowed, leaving a neat and perfect lil trail of snow about six inches around the car. The car was covered with snow, looking like a piece of candy covered in sugar. Nothing a good snow
brush couldn't handle.

My work done, I realize the temp is starting to rise. It's 8:30 a.m. They are even talking about it getting warmer throughout the day on the radio as I climb back into my car to head home. At home, I let my broken shovel get in one last good swipe around my house, just to be sure the mailman will deliver my mail today. My house is quiet, family still sleeping. A snow day for all, and a good time to blog.

(A note from the East Coast editor: eight inches of fluffy snow, despite what the teevee news says, is not "Snowmageddon." A stalled ocean storm pumping in two feet of heavy, wet snow on April Fools Day—Surprise!—in the northeast probably does qualify. So does the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. As does the Armistice Day Blizzard in 1940. Or the Blizzard of '78, of which any mention of similarity, 30-plus years later, sends the entire city of Boston to the grocery store to buy out every loaf of bread and gallon of milk.

(Less than a foot of snow predicted several days out, however, does not deserve a name.)

Note form the author - blame the Star Trib, I didn't name it! :op

26 February 2009

A friendly reminder

When it is snowing out like it is today, you are more than welcome to cancel reservations, and we'll waive any charges. Just call our office or shoot us an email or leave us some member feedback and we'll waive any cancellation or canceled time fees.

Your safety is our top priority!

When you ride alone …

Back during World War II, it meant something to ride alone. If you drove without someone else in the car, or drove when you could instead ride the streetcar (yes, World War II saw the peak ridership for most streetcar systems, including the one in the Twin Cities), you were unpatriotic. Why? Because you were using precious resources like fuel and rubber which were better suited for the war effort.

Back then, the US Government, actually asked for collective sacrifice for the greater good. We were told that we should conserve resources, grow our own food, and recycle. In fact, the Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis has been an active garden since World War II, the last community vegetable garden in the country from the war.

(There are a whole bunch of World War II propaganda posters online, here's a good compilation.)

In any case there was a recent spat, covered by the Star Tribune, at the state legislature, concerning just this poster:
During a presentation Tuesday related to a bill to reduce carbon emissions and the number of miles vehicles in Minnesota are driven, Dr. Julian Marshall of the University of Minnesota displayed a digital slide containing two versions of the historic ad.

The original ad is an illustration of a man driving a convertible and bears the slogan "When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler! Join a car-sharing club TODAY!" -- the idea being that a failure to conserve resources was aiding the German dictator, who was shown riding in the passenger seat.

The parody replaced Hitler with Osama bin Laden, a reference to oil-producing countries with ties to terrorism. It came from the cover of a 2002 book by the comedian Bill Maher, which was titled, "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism."

Maher's poster came out a few years ago, and the point he makes is that by consuming fuel we are funding the countries which sponsor terrorism. Or, as Marshall (a professor of Civil Engineering at the U) said:

"It's no secret that money spent on gasoline goes to places that are not very happy with us," Marshall said. "The issues we're talking about are all interconnected -- climate change, transportation, energy, geopolitics, climate security, energy security."

Marshall said he only meant to "provoke discussion about the effects of the state's transportation system." Of course, there were some other propaganda posters put out by the Federal Government during World War II. Each of them asked Americans to do something which would be patriotic, and help the country. One of them asked us to, well, just take a look:

Ah, yes, not only does car sharing save you money and help the environment, but it once was (and, perhaps, still is) the patriotic thing to do.

19 February 2009

Walkers and bikers are fitter

A story titled "Leaner nations bike, walk, use mass transit" crossed our desk last month. We looked at the data for Latvia, Sweden and the Netherlands, where at least 50% of commuters walk, bike or take transit to work, and where obesity rates are half of what they are in the U.S., or lower. This got me wondering: how does the nation of HOURCAR compare?

Digging in to our annual survey results from last summer, we seem to do rather well. First of all, HOURCAR members tend to use non-driving (and healthier) transportation options more after they join HOURCAR. According to our survey, after joining HOURCAR:
* 28% of our members bike more,
* 33% walk more, and
* 31% take transit more,
compared with
* 3% biking less,
* 1% walking less and
* 10% taking transit less.

* 66% of HOURCAR members walk daily (5 to 7 days per week), and 20% more walk 2-4 days per week.
* 25% of HOURCAR members bike daily, and another quarter bike at least two days a week, and
* 33% of HOURCAR members use transit every day, while another third take transit twice a week or more.
And, bucking the trend of America's car culture, 60% of HOURCAR members report they never use a personal automobile. In other words, HOURCAR members are on par, as far as using non-automotive transportation goes, with some of the healthiest countries around! So not only is HOURCAR good for the health of the environment, but it's good for the health of its members.

06 February 2009

HOURCAR on Facebook

Are you part of this social networking site called Facebook? (i.e. do you impulsively check your Facebook account every seven minutes during the entire day not getting anything else done as you wait to see wall posts all day long?)

Well, now you can add waiting for HOURCAR updates to your compulsion. HOURCAR has a Facebook page where you can see HOURCAR pictures, find out information about HOURCAR, post on our "wall" and let others see your support of sustainable car sharing in the Twin Cities. All you have to do is go to the page and become a "fan" of HOURCAR.

27 January 2009


Have you noticed that new car smell? It's entirely possible, as HOURCAR is adding new cars. Oh, yes, indeed we are.

A couple of these cars are in entirely new locations. One is in Elliot Park, sponsored by Aeon Homes through our McKnight Matching Grant program. It's located on Park Avenue north of 17th Street in Minneapolis.

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Another car in a new location is in the Mill Quarter Ramp near the Guthrie. It is reserved for use during the business day (from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) but is open to any HOURCAR user at other times. It lives on the second floor of the ramp right by the elevators.

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Thanks to support from Macalester College we've placed a second car at the Macalester hub. It's high time, too, as that car has been getting tons of use recently. Now members there can choose between two cars!

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We've also swapped in new cars for two of our older cars. One, at the 46th Street LRT hub, is our second solar-powered plug-in hybrid vehicle. So be sure to plug it in when you're done and get a solar charge.

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The final car is at our most popular hub at the Wedge Coop in Minneapolis.

View Larger Map

Get out there and enjoy 'em. They're new and spiffy and are just begging to be driven all over town!

16 January 2009

Electric vehicles coming to a car share near you?

It's that time of year again. Time for thousands of people to descend on Detroit and see what the car companies have come up with this year. (Do note: HOURCAR is not a bunch of car nuts. We all see cars as, in the best case, a small part of the transportation system. Hence car sharing. A case in point: several days this past summer we had to make sure someone brought a car to work as an emergency vehicle for us to use in case we had to go to one of the HOURCAR hubs, otherwise we'd all come by bus, bike or foot.) So we've had a peripheral interest in the goings on at the NAIAS, especially as the car companies promise more green offerings to come.

What is some of the gossip?

1. The new 2010 Prius will have slightly more room and better mileage. It's not perfect, but an improvement over the current generation. Look for some of these in the fleet in the coming year. A Toyota-made plug-in Prius is also in the works, but no time frame is out for that. Of course, we already have a couple of PHEVs!

2. Honda has a new hyrbid out, too. It's called the Insight, but isn't a tiny, two-seater anymore. It also doesn't get 65 mpg, but it's a bit more practical. We'll be assessing these for the HOURCAR fleet going forwards.

3. The most interesting news, however, is the news of Toyota's FTEV, which stands for "Future Toyota Electric Vehicle." How clever. It's not so much that Toyota is planning a small, electric car (there have been lots of other rumours about little EVs, such as the Smart Fortwo EV) but that, according to a New York Times blog piece, they are targeting the car as car sharing organisations.

But Toyota isn’t looking at the conventional car market for the FTEV. Instead, it sees the car as ideal for the growing market in car-sharing vehicles.

“We’re focusing less on traditional commercial use,” said Bob Reinert, national manager of Toyota’s advanced technology group.

That's pretty cool, I think.

What would you like to see from the car companies?

15 January 2009

Baby, its cold outside!

Do you ever wonder how the cars get clean or who that person is under the hood of that HOURCAR? Thats Tia, the Fleet Coordinator (me). And on days like today I am thanking anyone who will listen for the invention of long underwear and wool hats. Making sure cars will be available in the cold, getting new tires and brakes, checking washer fluid and changing a few sets of wipers blades: that was my day today, when the temps were at minus 21 degrees.

(These are, in fact, the coldest temperatures ever experienced by HOURCAR, and as far as we know, by an English-language car sharing organisation. Why "English-language"? Because Communauto has seen colder temperatures in Quebec.)

On occasion, I will have a helper, usually my 9 year old daughter. We get to chit chat in the car as we drive around the city checking on cars and keeping things in order. Today we had to look sadly at all the dirty cars because all the car washes were closed due to the weather. Although I know the folks at Park & Lake car wash and The Downtowner will be happy to see me come next week, when the temps are up and the cars can get a bath! I know them by name and they know me by wash and by logo.

I think dirty cars are a badge of honor for HOURCAR though. A sign that these cars see so much use, and that after three and a half years, they are a vital part of the transit picture for the Cities. We've broken them in well, after three winters! Its like a pair of running shoes. Its the soft, worn ones with the broken and tied laces that feel the best.

So, if you see the short, smiley woman under the hood, or driving an HOURCAR, give a wave!