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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 19, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 26
Baby, You Can Drive Our Flexcars

Davis Bookhart with one of the four Homewood-based hybrids that Flexcar members can use on an hourly basis.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

JHU brings Baltimore's first car share program to Homewood campus

By Amy Lunday

Starting this week, Johns Hopkins will be offering its students, faculty, staff and Greater Homewood neighbors a new way to hit the road: Flexcar, a planet-friendly car-sharing program designed with cost savings, convenience and conservation in mind.

Cost savings because the $6 per hour rate includes gas, insurance, 150 free miles and 24/7 emergency service, compared to the $600 per month that AAA says the average car costs. Convenient because members will have 24-hour access to four Homewood campus-based cars for errands or daytrips. Conservationist because it's intended to take cars off the street — in Hopkins' case, the streets of Charles Village, where parking is at a premium. In addition, all four cars will be environmentally conscious, low-emission hybrids. The cars — two blue Toyota Priuses and two white Honda Civic Hybrid Sedans — will have permanent reserved parking spaces in the Wyman Park Drive Reserved Lot, Homewood Field Lot and Homewood Museum Lot next to the tennis courts, and behind the Mattin Center and Power Plant.

"Studies have shown that each shared car has the effect of taking 15 personally owned vehicles off the road," said Davis Bookhart, manager of Energy Management and Environmental Stewardship in the Office of Facilities Management, and chair of the new Johns Hopkins University Sustainability Committee, a 16-member group convened by President Brody to boost the university's environmental profile. "Fewer cars means cleaner air and reduced demand for parking. We envision a day when we have dozens of shared cars on and around campus to provide clean mobility for people who live and work on and near campus."

Flexcar is making its Baltimore debut at Johns Hopkins and is the first program of its kind to reach the city. A kick-off event featuring giveaways and food is scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, on Levering Plaza.

The application fee to join is $35, which, as a special promotion, will be credited as $35 of free driving on the applicant's Flexcar account. For the first three months of the program, members will pay $6 per hour (or $60 a day) to use a car — that's a $3 discount off the normal rate of $9 per hour, thanks to an introductory deal brokered between the university and Flexcar, Bookhart said. Members can sign up for the program at a Web page designated for the Johns Hopkins Flexcar program,

All residents in the area served by the Greater Homewood Community Corp. who sign up within the next year are also eligible for the introductory promotion and discounted rate, Bookhart said. Seventy thousand people live in the area covered by GHCC, whose boundaries are from North Avenue to the south, I-83 to the west, Greenmount Avenue/York Road to the east and the city line to the north.

Here's how Flexcar works: Using the Web site or a touch-tone phone, members can reserve one of the cars for any available date and time. Instead of inserting a traditional car key in the lock, the member's credit card-like "Flexcard" will unlock the vehicle, whose ignition key is stored in the glove compartment. The high-tech card ensures that only the person who has reserved the vehicle can access it: The reservation information beamed to the car must correspond to the data encoded on the card; otherwise, the card won't unlock the car at that time.

Each car will have its own parking spot, where it will be picked up and dropped off at the end of the reserved block of time. All the costs associated with having a car are covered by the cost of membership. If the gas gauge dips below a quarter tank during a trip, members are required to fill the tank, but a fuel card is provided in each car to cover the cost.

Flexcar is open to students 18 and older and already has found a home on many college campuses across the country, including the University of Maryland, College Park; the universities of Florida and Washington; Portland State, Emory and Georgia Tech universities; and UCLA.

Bookhart envisions the cars providing a great service to faculty and staff who would like to walk or bike to work but have off-site meetings or appointments during the day, or to students who have only an occasional need for a car.

In addition to giving Hopkins affiliates a new way to get around town, Flexcar will be a boon to the residents of neighborhoods near the Homewood campus, according to Salem Reiner, the university's director of community affairs.

"JHU's decision to take the lead citywide on the use of a car-share program delivers true value to the broad community," he said. "Hopefully our commitment to the concept — to reduce the number of cars in the streets and jockeying for parking spaces, as well as congestion and pollution — will stimulate other entities in Baltimore to employ car share programs as well.

"It is also worthwhile to point out," he said, "that the service's value is enhanced by the university's decision to permit both Johns Hopkins and non-Hopkins affiliates to participate in the program, and by our offering incentives to encourage persons to use the service."

Other Johns Hopkins divisions and campuses interested in participating in a Flexcar program should contact Davis Bookhart at 410-516-4456.


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