It’s tough to function in Nashville without a car. But with the arrival of WeCar, that might change — at least a wee bit.
On April 22, the Nashville Downtown Partnership, working with St. Louis-based WeCar and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, will unveil downtown Nashville’s first open-membership vehicle-sharing program in a move officials hope will bolster the city’s fledgling alternative transportation efforts.
With one touch of your hand-held device, you can reserve an environmentally sensitive fuel-efficient vehicle, stroll downtown’s bustling streets to the pickup location and soon be WeCar-ing on your merry way.
“The goal is to provide business employees with new transportation options that can reduce operating costs related to fleet maintenance,” said Tom Turner, NDP president and CEO. “From a downtown residential perspective, it’s the ability to be car free.”
The “car-free” theme is paramount. Car-less WeCar members have no maintenance worries and no long-term parking concerns. It’s like owning a car without, well, owning a car. Yet the applications and potential users are broad.
“It doesn’t just appeal to someone without a car,” said Turner, who declined to say how much the partnership is spending to get the program up and running. “It can appeal to a [downtown-living] couple that has decided that keeping two cars and two parking spaces occupied just isn’t worth it.”
WeCar operates in 10 other states and focuses largely on university campus communities and closed-membership company programs. Nashville becomes WeCar’s third non-university open-membership downtown market, joining St. Louis and Rockville, Md.
Breaking the habit
For most locals, the thought of not having immediate access to a personal vehicle — and instead, occasionally using one that other people also drive — is no more appealing than the thought of living in a 650-square-foot space in a skyscraper within the gut of the city.
And that’s the point: The NDP and WeCar are targeting, in part, downtown residents who live and function in an unconventional way.
“I am actually going to be their first member,” said Michelle Boucher, a downtown resident who has lived sans car for three years.
Boucher bought a Honda Metropolitan scooter two years ago and might be one of the first downtown residents to have used the two-wheeled mode of hipster transit exclusively.
“Now you see more scooters,” she said. “Within three years, WeCar can be very visible.”
Of course, the program also will rely, Turner said, on Central Business District-based companies that maintain — sometimes through rental car operations — a small fleet of vehicles for business use. Membership with WeCar, he said, might offer a more practical option.
Downtown carpoolers and those workers who occasionally take the bus could also benefit, Turner added.
Fewer cars on the roads
If anything, car sharing reduces street congestion, as various WeCar estimates show that between four and 15 privately owned vehicles are removed from the roads.
In simple terms, WeCar in Nashville will work like this: Members pay a $20 one-time application fee and a $50 annual membership fee. Rates are $8 an hour for a Nissan Cube and $10 an hour for a Nissan Rogue. The rate includes liability insurance and fuel (up to 200 miles per car-share period).
Pickup sites will include the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Commerce Street (at the AT&T Tower), 211 Union St. (in front of the Stahlman Building), 209 10th Ave. S. (Cummins Station) and the intersection of 11th and 12th avenues in The Gulch.
Boucher, who works downtown for LP, said WeCar would allow her spontaneity and savings. Though she takes MTA buses, a private car would be nice once in a while.
“The WeCar program will be so much more cost- and time-effective,” she said. “If somebody calls me and says, ‘Meet me in East Nashville,’ to get a rental car in the conventional way takes too much time and money.”
Ryan Johnson, WeCar assistant vice president of operations, declined to provide specific WeCar growth numbers involving membership, revenue and employees. But he said the goal for the Nashville program is 60 percent membership growth in the first two years.
WeCar is not the first car-sharing program in Nashville. ZipCar services Belmont and Vanderbilt universities. As of 2009, it was the world’s largest car-sharing service, offering approximately 6,000 vehicles to about 275,000 drivers in 49 U.S. cities; Canada’s Vancouver and Toronto; and London. Worldwide, ZipCar users represent about half of all car-share program members.