Have you ever dreamed of saving money by getting rid of your car-or your family’s second car-along with auto loan payments, insurance payments, and maintenance costs? I know I have. But when I figured in the cost of taking a cab to go shopping and renting a car for a trip to the countryside, it didn’t quite pencil out.

Flexcar is a clever green twist on this idea. The way it works is that the company parks a small fleet of about four cars in your neighborhood to be shared by you and about 15 other people. The company maintains the cars, which range from hybrids to SUVs to pickups to sports cars to Mini Coopers. You can use them for about $8 per hour or $65 per day for the first 150 miles. Membership costs $35. You make a reservation online-months or mere minutes ahead of time-and this activates your key, which resembles a credit card. You do not have to pay for gas. You do not have to wash the car. How cool is that?

UCSB already has a car-sharing system that Flexcar is expected to take over within the next month. The university’s two Toyota Priuses, available for free in two-hour chunks of time, are now available only to staff and faculty. But Flexcar intends to make the system cars available to students as well.

Flexcar does business in nine cities. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara is not yet among them, but Margaret Kemp, who works in the Los Angeles office, said Santa Barbara could bring Flexcar here if we want it. Los Angeles is in partnership with Flexcar as part of its downtown development plan, offering free membership and driving credits. Portland provides free on-street parking for Flexcar and its competitors, as does Seattle, which is the only city where Flexcar actually makes a profit.

Kemp explained the company has to grow to a certain level before it makes a profit. “But it’s all good as long as we continue to go in that direction,” she said. The company’s major investor at this point is Steve Case, who, as cofounder of AOL, has a fairly good track record as a corporate visionary. His company, Revolution LLC, purchased a controlling interest in Flexcar in 2005. “That’s the reason we are able to stay in business,” said Kemp. Other boardmembers include the former CEO of Avis and Hertz, Joe Vittoria, former Chrysler chair Lee Iacocca, and Marquis Jet executive Ken Austin.

Kemp has just finished preparing the ground for Flexcar to enter Hollywood. “But it took a full year,” she said, to cultivate 100 members and arrange parking for their fleets. After Hollywood, she is scheduled to set up Flexcar in West Hollywood, which is clamoring for it.

There is nothing to prevent her from getting to work on Santa Barbara simultaneously, she said. “If people read about it on the Web site and want to join,” she said, “they should try to interest other community members who live in the same area.” Then, just email or call for further instructions and assistance.


Want to bring Flexcar to Santa Barbara? See flexcar.com.


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