Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Car-sharing revs up in city

Winnipeg's first-ever auto co-op set to start

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Next month Winnipeg will hit another milestone in its evolution as a cosmopolitan city -- the opening of the city's first car-sharing operation, Peg City Car Co-op.

The concept has been around for many years in cities throughout Europe and North America.

A handful of dedicated people determined to see car-sharing in Winnipeg have been working on the project for four years and Peg City Car Co-op is finally ready to launch.

A soft recruitment event last month secured 25 members and over the next couple of weeks it will be acquiring a couple of small, four-door, fuel-efficient, slightly used Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versas or Honda Fits.

Peg City Car Co-op just opened its office and two parking stalls have been secured -- one at the River and Osborne Canada Safeway lot, the other at 320 River Ave. on the other side of Osborne. A third parking stall (and car) will be located somewhere near Confusion Corner.

"The idea is that you are drawing from people within a five- to-10 minute walk of where the car is parked," said Beth McKechnie, Peg City's manager. "Osborne Village was clearly the optimal neighborhood to start in. It has the population density, parking pressures and a high number of people who don't own cars."

And while Peg City is not a for-profit enterprise, it is designed to grow into more cars and more neighbourhoods.

Bruce Berry, another founding board member, said plan calls for 25 to 30 cars and 500 members within five years.

It is likely not an unrealistic proposition.

The same week Peg City Car Co-op is getting underway, the largest for-profit car-sharing operation in the world, Zipcar Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., is launching a $125-million initial public offering.

Vancouver is home of the largest and oldest car-sharing co-op in Canada, which recently changed its name to Modo. When it started 14 years ago, it had 16 members and two cars. It now has more than 7,300 members and close to 250 cars in Vancouver.

"We're signing up 10 new members a day," said Tanya Paz, Modo's member relations manager.

Modo is spreading the car-sharing love by way of providing Peg City with its own proprietary car-sharing software that tracks the car's usage for billing and security purposes -- free of charge.

"We've had amazing support from the car-sharing community," McKechnie said. "There is a wealth of experience out there. It's one advantage of coming to the game late."

Peg City has received funding from the provincial and federal governments to do its feasibility study and to cover some startup costs. It has an operating line from Assiniboine Credit Union and the province is about to revise its co-op legislation to allow for more financing flexibility.

Paz said Modo became financially self-sustaining when it hit about 500 members.

McKechnie and Peg City's organizing group approached the concept from an environmental point of view -- looking at options to encourage people to try to get around in ways other than driving.

"But it can be tough to get around all the time by bus and bike," she said.

Modo's Paz said the Canadian Automobile Association estimates the average annual cost of owning a vehicle is about $9,000. In comparison, most Modo drivers pay around $117 a month or $1,404 a year.

And even though Peg City has yet to acquire its first vehicle, the excellence of the concept has preceded it.

The planning of Peg City Car Co-op helped real estate developers Stonebridge Development secure a zoning variance to convert the former First Church of Christ, Scientist at 511 River Ave. into 46 condo units.

Kurtis Sawatzky, president of Stonebridge, said it could not come up with enough parking stalls to satisfy the city's zoning regulations.

"We had to go outside the box," Sawatzky said. "We heard about the car-sharing operation and so we have made two parking stalls available to Peg City. It allowed us to get the variances we needed from the city."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2011 B5

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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