Car sharing shifts into gear

Residential property owners drive home unique amenity

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Gardening blogger

Everyone understands how difficult parking a car is in Oak Park. It's particularly problematic for apartment dwellers that get caught in the predicament of owning a vehicle and having no place to put it. One solution has been car sharing, and the practice of it is green and growing in Oak Park.

In a village such as this one that is dense and the throughway for three transit lines, ditching a car to share one makes sense for many.

In 2010, Oak Park entered into an agreement with Zipcar, the pay-as-you-go car sharing company. A year earlier, I-Go Car Sharing, a Chicago-based non-profit that pushes the rental of hybrid and electric vehicles by the hour or by the day, had debuted in the village.

Since it launched in '06, I-Go has put car sharing vehicles in hundreds of Chicago locations as well as Evanston, Berwyn, and Oak Park.

This summer, the Planek brothers, Bob and Bill, owners of Oak Park Apartments, connected with I-Go, and began piloting a car sharing program at their multi-family residential buildings, located at Austin Boulevard and the Eisenhower Expressway, and Austin and Lake Street.

"We were trying to find a way to answer some of our tenants concerns about where they can park a car, as well as provide a new amenity to our tenants" says Bob Planek, the co-owner of 40 apartment buildings in Oak Park, the Austin corridor and Chicago.

Here's how it works; I-Go provides the car, and tenants reserve the eco-friendly vehicles online, or over the phone, on a first come, first serve basis. The hybrid cars can be reserved 24/7, 365 days a year, one minute to one year in advance, and are entered by using an I-Go access card, which members receive in the mail post registration.

Rates run about $6.75 to $9.75 an hour for a one-to-four hour usage window, and includes insurance and gas.

"If you take an I-Go car for a day or over a weekend, our cost advantage would start shrinking, versus a rental car," says Richard Kosmacher, I-Go's director of business development. "So the strongest cost savings is literally on shorter trips."

Planek says that through the end of the year, I-Go is offering a promo code to as an incentive to becoming a member. Meanwhile, ready for an errand run at two of his parking lots are red and blue Toyota Prius hatchbacks.

Nearby neighbor, Chicagoan Judy Zink, 58, says she has already taken the "little red one" for a spin.

"I became an I-Go member in 2006, but I was a car owner before that," she says. "But I was driving fewer than 5,000 miles per year, and I thought this was ridiculous, to keep this car, so I thought I-Go was an option to use a vehicle when I needed one. So, I gave my car away, and started using I-Go and I have saved a significant amount of money doing it."

Green and growing

Jill Velan, Oak Park's interim parking manager, says that in 2013, the two rental car the companies are planning to juice up their fleets with the addition of electric vehicles. I-Go's battery charged cars will be recharged via a couple of solar panels installed at Lot 10, which is located at Marion Street and North Boulevard. ZipCar's electric vehicle will be in the Avenue Garage, at Oak Park Avenue and North Boulevard, and will also include a charging station.

In addition, another charging station, through a joint venture with I-Go, will be installed in Lot 10 to service Oak Parkers who already own an electric car.

Planek's tipping point for providing cars for tenants was related to the trend of how a growing number of individuals who are renting his apartments, ranging in age from 20 to 28, seemed to be walking away from car ownership, not only because of its sticker price, but also due to the cost of ownership, including gas, insurance, licenses, vehicle stickers, overnight parking, repairs and so on.

It can almost add up to what they are paying in rent, he speculates.

"For us, anecdotally, and with some evidence statistically, is these younger people tend not to be car owners anymore," Planek notes. "In the past, everyone had a car when they got to be that age. Now, people in that age group are saying, 'maybe a car is not for me, or I don't need a car.' There is a different way of looking at it."

Velan says so far in Oak Park the I-Go and Zipcar programs are popular among residents.

"We have overnight parking bans, so people have to deal with a place that doesn't have off street parking, and they have to find that, and during the day we have commuters who come [into the village], businesses, and so on who take up more parking spaces.

"There is also a good section of the town that are multi-unit dwellings that were built many years ago with no parking, back when the street cars were here," she adds. "So, the parking issue is constantly something we are working with. Anything we can do to make it easier so people will not have to own a vehicle, that is the philosophy now."

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