An Introduction to Flexcar


What is Flexcar?

Flexcar is a carsharing service. We own and manage a large, fully-automated, self-service fleet of fuel efficient cars, trucks and vans. Businesses and individuals pay a modest annual membership fee, and then use an online reservation system and a “keycard” (proximity card) to enter and drive the vehicle that they reserved.

Unlike traditional car rental, carsharing is either hourly or by-the-day. Also, Flexcar’s pricing is all-inclusive. Rates include full insurance, gas and unlimited miles. Members typically cancel their own car insurance because it’s included in Flexcar’s rates. Upon joining, they cancel their insurance and sell their personal vehicle, thereby eliminating what is typically their second largest household expense: their car.

AAA estimates that it costs over $500/month to own a car (assumptions: new Taurus every 5 years; full insurance, etc). AAA’s figures, by the way, do NOT include Downtown parking. Instead of driving everywhere, Flexcar members rely primarily on public transportation, bikes and their feet, and only drive when they really need to (e.g. to get a big load of groceries, go to the Coast for a weekend, go to a meeting in the suburbs, etc.).

If a Flexcar member who doesn’t have car insurance goes to a rental car agency, they walk in expecting to pay something around $25 a day, but they eventually end up with a bill totaling closer to $60/day. Why? Insurance costs extra. Gas also costs extra. And if you’re an hour late, you get charged for an extra day.

With Flexcar, by comparison, the cost includes everything: insurance, gas, maintenance, cleaning, and a reserved parking space wherever you picked up (and later drop off) the car.

Also, with Flexcar, you can reserve & use a car, truck or van in 1/2 hour increments. So if you need a car for 3.5 hours, you’re not stuck paying for 24. Also, you don’t have to stand in line, sign a lot of paperwork, fill the tank (unless it drops below a quarter tank, in which case you fill it with an in-vehicle gas credit card). Once approved as a member (requirements include a reasonable driving record to be approved) you get a member number, and PIN and an electronic “keycard,” which gets you in the car. (Your PIN is also needed in order to enable your chosen car’s ignition).

How much does it cost?

Hourly: $7 – $9
Daily: $35 – $90 ($56 is pretty typical).

These prices include everything – gas, insurance, an unlimited miles. The daily rates very depending on the vehicle-specific “daily cap,” (the maximum charge for a 24 hour calendar day) which is either 5 hours, 7 hours or 10 hours.

Many Flexcar members go weeks without needing a car; others drive every few days. Some drive once a month, to get out of town for a weekend. Others drive the same vehicle (the one located nearest their home) every weekend. Some even have a recurring reservation (e.g. every Saturday at 10AM to 1PM) on the same vehicle for the next several months. For example, every Saturday at 10, a member might go to “their” Flexcar, open it with their keycard, enter their PIN, run all of their errands for the week, return the car, lock it up, and leave it for the next driver.

The incremental cost structure ($40 a year for a membership; no additional cost unless you actually drive) gives members a powerful (approx. $8/hour) incentive to drive judiciously. Over time, members tend to ride bikes, walk and ride transit more & more, and drive less.

What about availability?

Flexcar vehicles are usually driven 4-8 hours/day. 6 hours is pretty typical. When all of the vehicles in a neighborhood reach that threshold, we add more cars, thus keeping availability in sync with demand. 6 hours/day sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that this is over a 24 hour calendar day. So are cars are actually only about 25% utilized. Midday is “peak time,” so we recommend reserving a few hours in advance for a lunch meeting, but most members still make their reservations at the very last minute. This means that they sometimes don’t get the car closest to them, but with an ever-denser network, there’s almost never a problem getting a Flexcar somewhere nearby.

Who uses Flexcar?

150+ private companies use Flexcar. They find it more convenient and cost effective than owning, insuring, maintaining and parking underutilized fleet cars. About 6 public agencies in Portland/Vancouver also use Flexcar’s service. Demographically speaking, Flexcar members (close to 6k of them in Portland; 30k nationwide) are typically well-educated transit riders who live and/or work in the City. About 1/3 don’t own a car; the rest use Flexcar as an occasional second car. Our “second car” clientele use our service because it’s simply more convenient (self service, incremental, predictable pricing, no paperwork, decentralized) than renting a car.

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