Four Corners car-sharing a tough sell

Innovative ideas for pooling rides fail to entice interest in region

Public transportation has always been a tough need to fill in the Four Corners stemming from its remoteness. Some national private companies have launched commuting programs in the region to help fill the need, but officials say the programs have yet to garner much interest.

The Southwest Colorado Regional Transit Coordinating Council recently hosted a webinar on commuting for local businesses and employees to provide more information about vanpool services RideShare and vRide and the car-sharing program WeCar.

The Southern Ute Community Action Programs Inc. has received calls from Durango residents who work in Farmington wondering when RoadRunner, operated by SUCAP, will begin providing a route from Durango to Farmington.

The route is still several years away because of a lack of funding, said Peter Tregillus, program director for SUCAP.

“We wanted to get the word out (about the programs) so we could encourage people to do more efficient travel if that’s what they wanted,” he said. “We’re not going to see any significantly expanded transit services until the local economy recovers.”

Rideshare and vRide are vanpool services that provide a vehicle for a group of commuters to jointly pay on a month-to-month basis. Lone commuters can also search routes to see if a vanpool they could join already exists in their area.

“Vanpool is the way to go for smaller groups,” Tregillus said. “I don’t know whether people will bite on that. It’s hard to say because it’s a new concept, and people might see it and say that has nothing to do with me.”

WeCar is an automated rental program. A business or school can provide a fleet of cars that employees or students can rent on an hourly basis.

WeCar is more feasible for companies with a large number of employees and college campuses where students may not normally have access to a car, said Laura Lewis Marchino, assistant director for Region 9 Economic Development District.

Region 9 sent out information about the car-sharing program to the top 20 employers in the region, but none expressed interest, Marchino said.

Enterprise approached Fort Lewis College student government about a year ago with a proposal for a WeCar fleet, but the talks never progressed past that stage, said Mitch Lewis, spokesman for the college.

RideShare and WeCar have been operating in Southwest Colorado for about a year, said Natalee Perkins, director of business rental sales for Enterprise Holdings, which operates both programs.

One of WeCar’s largest customers is the city of Loveland, Perkins said.

To close a budget gap, the city reduced the number of city vehicles sitting in parking lots, according to The Reporter-Herald of Loveland. The city now uses a fleet of cars through the WeCar program and has allowed Loveland to cut $300,000 yearly from the cost of maintaining its vehicle fleet.

The city of Durango discussed providing a car-sharing program, but ultimately decided it was not in a financial place to provide it, said Amber Blake, multimodal administrator for the city.

“It works really well in urban areas, and, if there was a business that wanted to try it out, then the city would be able to partner with them to have a location in the Transit Center parking lot (for the vehicles),” she said.

The city also previously looked into applying for a federal grant that would subsidize a vanpool program for employees who worked in city limits, but there wasn’t enough interest.

Vanpool programs can be expensive for small businesses and cost-prohibitive, Blake said.

None of the programs has received calls from webinar participants requesting further information or to sign up.

One reason for the lack of interest could be decreasing gas prices, Marchino said. The cost of transportation was on commuters minds more during the economic recession, but could move to the backburner as gas prices become more affordable.

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