Friday, February 10, 2006

Citywheels Cleveland Launches at Oberlin

Cleveland became the 18th city in US with carsharing, with the soft launch by Citywheels Cleveland yesterday with 2 vehicles at Oberlin College, about 30 minutes from Cleveland.

The event was celebrated ribbon cutting launching their Prius hybrid and Scion xB (the boxy one) by college president Nancy Dye (shown in the driver's seat) and other dignitaries. The school hopes that Citywheels can help meet its parking problems and support its sustainability goals.

Citywheels expects these vehicles to be the mainstays of their fleet when they launch full-scale operations in Cleveland proper in March. Unfortunately, insurance still prevents 18-20 year old students from taking advantage of the program at Oberlin, according to Ryan McKenzie, founder of Citywheels.

McKenize spent a couple of years trying to interest Flexcar or Zipcar to come to Cleveland but got nowhere. Since making the decision to go for it, McKenzie has been talking to everyone who will listen to him about the virtues of carsharing. This includes, the mayor, downtown business leaders and neighborhood groups.

"We hope to reach 14 cars by October," McKenzie says. He estimates he will need 25 cars, 500 members and break even by the end of the second year.

Citywheels offers several rate plans: Standard Plan is $5/mo. membership and $8.50/hour including 125 miles per reservation, with additional miles at 25¢/mile. There's a daily rate of $59. In addition, there are four Value plans - the 10 hour plan costs $8/hour including 125 miles and additional miles at 20¢ and $56 daily rate or a business-oriented 50 hour plan charges out at $7.25/hour with unlimited miles and $50.75 daily rate. The regular application fee is $100 and they recently changed their minds and dropped the idea of charging a security deposit.

Citywheels is a "dot com" not a "dot org" by choice, says McKenzie, who wrestled with the for-proift-non-profit question for a long time before deciding that he could keep his principles and would have better credibility and a better chance of succeeding as a for-profit business. Ryan hasn't quite completely given up his day job at EcoCity Cleveland though you'd hardly know it!

Ryan is hardly a newcomer to carsharing. He's had it on his personal radar screen for years. He and I must have first corresponded in 1998, shortly after the launch of CarSharing Portland and we met several years later at the first (and, so far, last) National Carsharing Conference in Atlanta in 2000.

Bon voyage, Citywheels.