Flexcar on the way

Heidi Schiller
   Downtown developers have signed a contract with Seattle-based Flexcar, a national car share company, to provide two vehicles at the Bay View Tower once construction is complete in 18 to 20 months, manager William Honea said.
   The deal could signal a larger move by Flexcar into Bellingham, if the company sees greater community interest in having a Flexcar fleet here.
   The car share company, which operates fleets of cars in seven major cities around the United States, including Seattle and Portland, allows members to reserve driving times via the Internet or phone. Members pay an hourly rate that covers gas, insurance and unlimited miles, according to the company’s Web site.
   Flexcar was unavailable for comment at press time.
   The company operates large fleets of vehicles, stationed across a city in permanent parking spaces, for thousands of customers to use. In other cases, the company dedicates a few cars to an individual project, like Bay View Tower, Honea said.
   If the vehicles prove successful at Bay View, the company might consider expanding a fleet in Bellingham, he said.
   “We hope to be the pointed end of the spear in getting them here,” he said. “When we talked to them, it was in that direction — to get their foot in the door in Bellingham.”
   Honea said there would probably need to be a commitment for 50 vehicles, or 50 spaces provided by the city or private parties, in order for Flexcar to consider moving a larger fleet into Bellingham.
   “It makes business sense, but it needs to reach a critical mass,” he said. “It fills a niche between rental cars and owning your own car. It reduces — pretty significantly when it reaches that critical mass — the amount of need for automobiles in a downtown core.”
   The contract with Flexcar in Bay View for a van and a truck is for one year, he said. After that, condo owners can vote to decide whether they’d like to keep the service.
   “The city would love to see more of this kind of arrangement, where developers can make cars available for residents so people do not necessarily have to own a vehicle, but can have access to a vehicle,” said city transportation planner, Chris Comeau.
   He said the advantage of car sharing is that members can subscribe to the service and pay a monthly fee that is significantly smaller than that of owning a car and paying for car insurance.
   A full-fledged car-share fleet could also reduce the amount of space in the city’s downtown dedicated to parking as well as reducing the number of cars on the road, he said.



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