City & Politics, Planning

Peg City Car Co-op: Invest in Less

By: Melissa Dupuis, Vice-President of Peg City Car Co-op

Carsharing in the Canadian prairies may come across as a crazy idea to some. Winnipeg, as we all know, is a car loving, winter city. Many of us have even adapted our lifestyles to avoid the discomforts of cold, completely.  No need for a winter jacket when you are just going to jump into your already warm car, equipped with requisite remote car-starter.  Shorts in February? That isn’t weird at all. On the other hand,  getting on a bike, walking, or waiting 10 minutes for a bus in the depths of winter – totally nuts. Or so it seems, until the repair bill for your  ’02 corolla comes due.

Four years ago a group of active transportation enthusiasts were lamenting the fact that despite an aversion to the cost of vehicle ownership, the truth remained that there are times when access to a one is necessary. Moved to Osborne Village, Downtown, or West Broadway and would like to visit your parents in the suburbs at times? Have a pet you need to buy bulk loads of litter and/or food for? Want to buy the giant box of quinoa at the nearest Costco? Think spending a day out at Birds Hill Park sounds divine…if only you could get there first? Carsharing was an obvious solution to a crowd who had already figured out that car ownership was more expensive than it was worth, particularly if it was only needed for the occasional trip.

At the time Winnipeg was the largest city in Canada that didn’t have any kind of carshare service at all. But it didn’t help that our prairie colleagues in Calgary and Regina were running small fleets with a skeleton crew of volunteer workers, or that Edmonton had folded completely. Between Nelson and Hamilton there wasn’t a strong showing for carsharing culture. It was there, but it was small, heavily localized and wasn’t yet offering a viable transportation alternative on the large scale, to the car-centric model we are all familiar with.  We went ahead with the idea anyway.

Like Vancouver, the Kootenays, Calgary, Regina, and Hamilton we decided to become a co-op. Manitoba is a hotbed of fantastic co-ops and the model made sense, because to be honest, this isn’t an industry built on big profits. Being a co-op offers us a greater chance to succeed, because it is a business model with a tendency for stability, long term sustainability, and democratic governance which is a feel-good way of providing a much needed service for a community starved for the urban lifestyle of larger cities. Want to get around like they do in Montreal? Communauto, North America’s first carshare business, was started in 1994 and now has 25,000 users.

At this point we’ve been rolling (pun intended) for 18 months. We have four cars, shared by over 100 members. This includes an extended range electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt.  Want to know what it’s like to drive a $50,000 vehicle for $3/hour? That’s what sharing assets and awesome partnerships can do.

But to get ourselves out of the junior leagues, we need to expand. This isn’t just about becoming a sustainable business that provides good paying jobs and modest profits. It is also about promoting a bigger vision for the transportation choices in this winter city. Within the next two years we expect to have 11 cars scattered around or near downtown Winnipeg and serve between 350 and 400 members.

To get there we need to grow both our fleet and our membership. To get there faster, we are joining the ranks of Pollock’s Hardware and Neechi Foods (both co-ops) and offering investment shares through the Province of Manitoba’s CED Tax Credit program. Think of it like a couple thousand small car loans from the public, at $100 a pop. In return, investors get a 30% tax credit in the spring and we’ll start returning your money after three years with a little extra. It’s win-win. Really.

The idea might seem a little crazy, but it is one whose time has come. All I know is that as a member of Peg City Car Co-op, I don’t have to bum rides from my little sister anymore, I’m saving cash over car ownership, I never even bother looking at the price of gas, and it allows my bike to remain my most trusted steed.


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