Saturday, May 26, 2007

Flexcar hits a few bumps in the road in Pittsburgh

In what seemed too good to be true, Flexcar's Pittsburgh launch is hitting a few bumps along the way.

The deal was this: local Pittsburgh businesses would step up and contract for a substantial amount of monthly car usage over a multi year period - Flexcar had a revenue stream from day 1, businesses had cars, Pittsburgh had carsharing. Flexcar's arrival with 20 cars on May 1 was championed by the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership, a booster organization.

Cars are located in downtown and Oakland neighborhood, near Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, although there's no special program established with either school yet. This is somewhat surprising for Flexcar, given that it has unique insurance allowing it offer membership down to age 18. The cars include hybrids, compact sedans, minivans, Honda Elements and a Mini Cooper, which, as usual, got most of media attention.

But along the way, the city's commitment of $10,000 has become a public political football between the supportive Mayor and a vocal City Council member. Councilman Bill Perduto claims he's a supporter of using carsharing to offset the city's fleet but just wants to see the city fleet actually get smaller in return for the money the city is paying Flexcar for vehicle usage. And Perduto wants the criteria for when city staff should use a Flexcar or the city fleet to be spelled out in advance. He also wonders why there wasn't competitive bidding for the relationship.

In the latest bump, KPXI , a local TV station, noticed that 8 of the 19 Flexcars already in place didn't have safety inspection or emission test stickers displayed, a violation of state law. They also discovered that one of the cars didn't have the required registration sticker on the license plate. Egg on the face of the local Flexcar staff. Flexcar assured the station that would have all cars up to standard within a week. The station also questioned why public on-street parking was "given" to Flexcar.

Thanks to PopCity for the picture (above). They've got a good description of Flexcar in Pittsburgh on their site.