Wheels on demand: Evergreen businessmen roll out rent-by-the-hour concept in Denver

-A A +A
By Vicky Gits

Wouldn’t it be more fun to have a car without having the responsibilities that come with it?

That’s the premise of Occasional Car, an Evergreen company that is launching a car-sharing service for people who are hankering for an environmentally sensitive alternative to a personal car or a second car.

Still in its budding stage, the business is expected to go live in a couple of weeks.

Occasional Car is the brainchild of Russ Straub, owner of LoanBright Inc. of Evergreen, and Matt Peterson, a college friend from their days together as engineering students at the University of Vermont.

The owners of Occasional Car LLC include Straub, Peterson and LoanBright execs Scott Wiesenmeyer and Mark Barlow.

“We thought it would be fun and would be a good fit with the times, being a green business and people trying to save money,” Peterson said. They hope to have as many as 20 to 50 cars within 12 to 18 months, depending on the market.

Straub got interested in car sharing in 2000 when he lived in Boston, where a national car-sharing pioneer called Zipcar was in business. “I had always thought it was a pretty good idea,” Straub said.

Some people think Straub is crazy to be starting a new business in the middle of an economic downturn.

“We’re definitely not crazy. We think the time is right and green consciousness is at an all-time high,” he said. He started researching the concept and networking with sources last summer. Then they began marketing the service on the Internet.

“We first started in September, and it was very frustrating. We’d get one person to register on Saturday and one on Sunday. It was looking a little scary. Suddenly something began to click,” Straub said.

More than 1,000 have registered so far.

“Once we hit five to 10 a day and it was sustained, we got excited.”

Evergreen is deemed too spread out to make a good market for the concept, so the Occasional Car fleet, which consists of two hybrid Honda Civics, will be starting off in the parking lot of the Whole Foods, at the intersection of East 11th Avenue and Ogden Street in Denver’s Capitol Hill. The other location is Barclay Towers condos in LoDo at 16th and Larimer streets.

Car sharing is really more like renting on a shorter time frame. Instead of days, Occasional Cars rents by the hour. Customers register as regular members, obtain a personal electronic key and reserve their vehicles online. The cars remain in a centrally located parking lot. Frequent users get a cheaper rate, but the expected average cost is about $80 for eight hours. The company pays for gas and insurance.

Urban roots

As an industry, car sharing is an urban phenomenon. It is starting to take off in some big cities like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver and Chicago.

Zipcar has 275,000 members in the U.S., Canada and London and 5,500 cars. There are 1,300 Zipcars in the New York area, where a Civic goes for $13 an hour and a Mini Cooper for $15.

“Zipcar’s predicate is that sharing is to ownership what the iPod is to the eight-track, what the solar panel is to the coal mine. Sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern; owning is dull, selfish, timid backward,” writes Mark Levine in an article for the New York Times Magazine.

“The No. 1 reason people register is they don’t have a car,” said Straub. “Then you get reasons like, ‘I think it will save me money.’ What we’re observing, and from the experience of Zipcar, there is a huge economic and lifestyle driver for car sharing. People think it’s really good for the environment, but the main driver is economics. It can save a lot of money.”

For more information, visit www.occasionalcar.com.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com.