Friday, August 05, 2005

Another City Fleet Goes for Carsharing

The City of Portland, Oregon is converting its downtown motorpool of 16 sedans and replacing them with Flexcars, according to Bruce Cross, city fleet manager. Employees will have access to any vehicle in the Flexcar Portland fleet at $7/hour (unlimited milage).

No exclusive use vehicles are involved, unlike City Carshare's arrangement with the City of Berkeley. In anticipation of higher usage of its downtown vehicles, many of which are parked in designated on-street spaces, Flexcar has added 3 vehicles for a total of 11 vehicles in close proximity to City Hall.

The city expects to reduce costs on these motor pool vehicles by about 25%. Cars currently assigned for exclusive use by various city offices are not being replaced, although employees of all city bureaus can join Flexcar under the program. As with other carsharing, employees must apply and be approved by Flexcar's insurance company. When approved they get a free one-year personal account, as well.

How carsharing can complete with a city fleet has been a topic of discussion for years. "It's all about utilization," says Steve Gutmann of Flexcar Portland. "Our cars are in use 31 days per month, compared to a city fleet vehicle which is only in use 21 days," he said. Fleet manager Bruce Cross estimated utilization on the city vehicles at 29% (a figure no carsharing company could survive on - DB). Part of the city's analysis in making their decision included looking at the more extensive use of rental cars for peak periods as well as installing in-vehicle computers themselves and running their own scheduling system.

Maintaining a high level of satisfaction is also important. Cross noted that employees have to get used to some changes, such as scheduling the vehicles and returning them on time. An unexpected hurdle was how to accomodate a city policy that allows fleet vehicles to park in metered spaces for free. Now employees will have to display a special parking permit placard indicating they are on city business.

Fleet manager Bruce Cross said that declining city revenues were driving the process to cut fleet expenses. But concerns by employees about job security had to be addressed in order for the program to proceed. The agreement with Flexcar allows consideration of city shops providing oil changes, doing body work and fueling carsharing vehicles if mutually advantageous.