WeCar program reduces prices, hopes for more members

University officials hope a price reduction will attract more students to the on-campus car-sharing program.

Since the launch of the WeCar program in late July, 30 students have registered to use the cars, said Phil Winters, director of the Transportation Management Demand Program at the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).

While that number may seem low to some, Winters said he expected it would take time for the new program to gain attention.

The WeCar program, provided by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car company, has four cars available for students to rent – three Toyota Priuses and one Ford Escape.

The cars are available anytime to registered members of the WeCar program, Winters said. Members can reserve a rental car by logging onto the program’s Web site and selecting a time slot, he said.

Information about how to register is available on the WeCar Web site, carsharing.usf.edu.

On Oct. 1, the rate for the Prius models was lowered from $10 per hour to $7.50 per hour, while the Escape rate dropped from $12 per hour to $9 per hour, a savings of 25 percent in both instances, according to the WeCar Web site.

The $20 application fee was also waived, which means students are only required to pay the $50 membership fee along with the hourly rental fees to begin using WeCar.

The new WeCar prices are cheaper than the Zipcar car-sharing programs at the University of Florida and the University of Miami, Winters said. The rental fees for those programs range from $8 to $9 per hour, depending on the type of car being used.

CUTR’s goal is to increase rental usage to cover the program’s expenses of roughly $6,000 per month, Winters said.

“We’d ultimately like to get to a ratio of about 40 members per vehicle,” he said.

It would be ideal for the program to recover $1,500 per car each month from rental fees to reach the $6,000 mark, which would offset the costs of gas and liability insurance, Winters said.

But that hasn’t happened so far, he said, and the difference is being covered by money from $533,000 in research grants that CUTR received from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grants are also used within the WeCar program to fund research on students’ driving habits for a project that is expected to last two years, Winters said.

“From our research project point of view, our motivation is that (WeCar) will foster more people using public transportation,” he said.

Next semester, WeCar may implement a variable pricing program for a randomly selected portion of its members in which rental rates go up or down based on frequency of usage. Winters said this would be another way to promote the program.

The program is also looking into the possibility of replacing one of the Prius models in the spring semester with a “sportier” car to boost student interest and usage, Winters said.

“We recognized when we started that we would be making some changes,” he said.

So far, Winters said WeCar has been more of a “niche program” for students who either live on or near campus. Commuting students who have cars aren’t as likely to use it, he said.

Camille Bailey, a senior majoring in anthropology who lives on campus, said she uses a WeCar rental at least once a week for short trips to get groceries or to go out to eat.

Initially, Bailey said she was worried that students who used a rental ahead of her would go over their allotted time, but she said that hasn’t happened.

“People turn (cars) in when it’s supposed to be turned in and (the cars) are always there,” she said. “I’ve never had a major problem with it at all.”

William Carpenter, a senior majoring in Africana studies who lives in an apartment off campus, said he enjoys the convenience of WeCar.

“Everything is covered by the hourly rate, so you don’t have to worry about gas or insurance or anything like that,” he said.

Carpenter said he uses a WeCar rental twice or thrice a month, and he plans to use it even if he is able to get his own car because it is an inexpensive way to travel.