Five Philadelphia residents are helping change the way people commute.
By Wendy Lyons Sunshine

In urban areas where walking and public transit can serve most travel needs, having a car isn’t always necessary. Except, that is, when it is. (Ever tried moving into a new place with nothing but the subway to transport your boxes? Not fun.) But rather than buying cars that would go unused much of the year -- or using them more than necessary to justify the purchase -- Philadelphia residents Clayton Lane, Eli Massar, Nathaniel Robinson, Tanya Seaman, and Lawrence Shaeffer thought there had to be a better, more efficient way for Philadelphians to have access to a vehicle without dealing with the hassles of owning one.

In 2002, they founded PhillyCarShare, a pioneering car-sharing program that is an economical and eco-friendly alternative to private car ownership. What started with two cars and nine members has ballooned to several hundred cars and 50,000 members, making PhillyCarShare the largest regional car-sharing organization in the world. (Similar programs are in place in cities such as Chicago; Austin; Cleveland; Madison, Wisconsin; and Sydney, Australia; ZipCar is a multicity program.) One out of five Philadelphia Center City residents participate, and they can choose from more than 25 vehicle makes and models -- ranging from BMWs to pickup trucks, though more than half of the fleet are hybrids.

“More than half our members have sold their car or avoided purchases,” says Lane, the company’s deputy executive director. “They’re saving money and driving 42 percent fewer miles. We’ve taken 19,000 cars off the roads.”

How convenient can it really be? You might be surprised. Members can reserve a ride online or by phone 24 hours a day. They can then use a passkey to access one of hundreds of vehicles strategically located throughout the city. After the car is returned to its permanent parking spot, an onboard computer transmits data (e.g. time, mileage) wirelessly to the billing system, which cuts a monthly invoice for each member. The organization then charges the user’s credit card. Prices for usage start at $3.90 an hour plus nine cents per mile with a $15/month Advantage Plan membership, which includes gas, reserved parking, and $1 million in insurance.

Easy on drivers, their wallets, and the environment: It’s enough to rev anyone’s engine.