With a $29,000 grant, a red Toyota Prius and a board of directors, Ashland CarShare is almost ready to put its wheels on the ground.

With a $29,000 grant, a red Toyota Prius and a board of directors, Ashland CarShare is almost ready to put its wheels on the ground.

The organization — in which members pay to share use of a common vehicle — is holding a celebration Sunday, and founder and acting executive director Becky Brown hopes to have the car on the road by the end of January.

Brown began working on the project after going car-free a year ago, and she recently received a jump start with a $29,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation's Public Transit Division.

The Rogue Valley Transportation District received the grant from ODOT several years ago to start a vanpool program, but the project never got off the ground, according to Paige Townsend, a senior planner with RVTD.

When ODOT contacted her saying it needed to redirect the funds, Townsend recommended Ashland CarShare, because it shares RVTD's mission of encouraging alternative transportation and reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles on the road, she said.

The organization has applied for nonprofit status, and the grant is allowing Ashland CarShare to lease its first vehicle, obtain reservation software, design a logo and new Web site and pay a car-share consultant "so this can be successful in the long run," Brown said.

Ashland CarShare will celebrate its recent success Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Ashland Community Center, 73 Winburn Way. Refreshments will be available, The Hickory Notes will play music and RVTD will present the Transportation Hero Award at 3 p.m. The public will have a chance to see the Prius and learn more about the program.

How it works

Under a car-share program, members pay a monthly fee plus an hourly and per-mile rate to use a car owned by the organization. Fuel, insurance, and maintenance of the car are all included.

"It's really to me, ultimately, the convenience of having access to a car without the hassle of owning a car," Brown said.

Ashland CarShare members will make reservations online or by phone and have their own electronic key. Safeway has donated a parking spot near the RVTD bus stop on Siskiyou Boulevard, so the car will be easily accessible by bus or bicycle, Brown said.

When the car-share program expands, additional cars will ideally be located at various places around town to increase accessibility, Brown said.

To become a member of Ashland CarShare, people will pay a one-time joining fee of $50, undergo a credit check and provide a copy of their driving record. Applicants will be screened to ensure they are not a liability to the organization, Brown said.

Members can choose the "share-a-lot" plan, which includes a free RVTD bus pass, and pay $25 per month plus $3.95 per hour and 30 cents per mile. The "share-a-little" plan charges no monthly fee and costs $7.95 per hour and 30 cents per mile.

About 30 people have expressed interest in joining, Brown said, and she plans to start off with about 15 members before adding more cars to the program in the spring. She hopes to eventually bring in different types of vehicles, such as a van and a truck.

Mayor-elect John Stromberg has pledged to be the first member of Ashland CarShare because he thinks "it is a promising transportation alternative for Ashland," Stromberg said.

"What intrigues me is that, in a car-share system, the percentage of time that the car is actually in use is much greater than for a single-owner car," he said.

If the program were successful, the City of Ashland might be able to participate in car-sharing, Stromberg said.

Good for the environment

Several Bay Area cities have reduced their fleets by car-sharing, said Rick Hutchinson, CEO of City CarShare, which guaranteed Ashland CarShare's lease to obtain its first vehicle.

The San Francisco-based organization has helped several car-sharing programs start up around the country, and they were happy to help Brown, Hutchinson said.

"She's really done an incredible job of getting Ashland CarShare started," he said. "They're right on mission."

Car sharing is often marketed as a money-saver, Hutchinson said. In the Bay Area it costs $500 to $700 a month to own a car, he added, whereas the average City CarShare member spends $50 a month.

Car sharing also has a positive impact on the environment, he said.

Each car-share vehicle results in six to 15 fewer cars on the road, he said. A study showed that City CarShare prevented 25 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in 2008, and 30,000 fewer miles were driven on Bay Area roads every day, he said.

Studies also show that people who use car-share programs tend to shop locally more and drive less, he said.

CityCarShare launched its program in 2001 and has since grown to 310 vehicles, with about 11,000 people using the cars on a regular basis, he said.

The United States has more than 20 car-sharing programs with several starting up this year, and worldwide more than 350,000 people participate in car sharing, Brown said.

For a car-sharing program to succeed, it's important that the organization be mission-based and not profit-based, Hutchinson said.

"Car sharing is about its environmental and social impact," he said.

Communities have to understand the concept to be able to embrace the program and help sustain it, he added.

In Ashland, getting Southern Oregon University staff and students involved will help the project succeed, he said.

It's also key to keep car-sharing prices affordable to all constituencies, such as student and the elderly, he said.

Ashland CarShare will be good for the town, but if it's successful it will set a precedent that a small community of motivated people can make a car-sharing program work, Hutchinson said.

Car-sharing programs have succeeded in major urban centers, and Ashland CarShare will set an example for smaller cities, board member Vicki Bamman said.

That pioneering component can also help attract funding if the model can be replicated elsewhere, she said,

"I firmly believe that Ashland is an ideal location to introduce the car-share concept to Southern Oregon," she said, "because Ashland is a progressive, environmentally-conscious community."

For more information on Ashland CarShare, visit www.ashlandcarshare.org or call Becky Brown at 890-1936.

Staff writer Kira Rubenthaler can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 225 or krubenthaler@dailytidings.com.