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!

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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.