Drive a Toyota Prius one week, a Ford F-150 the next, then a Toyota Yaris without having to worry about car loans, leases or insurance.
U Car Share will make "vehicle access as convenient as owning a car," Mike Kemp, Utah's U-Haul Co. president, said Tuesday as he stood in front of a Prius and Ford Escape hybrid parked at the Utah Transit Authority central station.
The vehicles are part of a months-long process to bring the car-sharing program to Utah. There's a $25 initial fee to enroll in U Car Share, which gives people an electronic card and lets them reserve a car online. The e-card is swiped over a transmitter on the driver's side windshield to unlock the door of a car parked at a designated location. The keys are in a glove box and the hourly rate starts at $4.95, with 59 cents charged per mile.
When the member is through using the vehicle for errands or some other outing, he or she simply drops it back off at the same parking spot and leaves the keys in the car before swiping the e-card to lock it back up.
Twelve vehicles have been parked at UTA TRAX and FrontRunner stations from Ogden to Sandy, and the program is set to expand to 28 cars available at the University of Utah and different spots around Salt Lake City.
The program "is a win for just about everyone in this community -- whether you use U Car Share or not," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who spoke at the launching event. Though U Car Share is a program run by U-Haul, UTA, Salt Lake City and the U. are providing parking spots for the vehicles.
The shared-use program will help provide more sustainable options that weave into mass transit in Utah, said Kemp, and helps people minimize their car-owning expenses. Kemp said people can either get rid of extra cars or not need a personal car at all.
The average cost of owning a car can be more than $600 a month when figuring in insurance, payments, maintenance and gas, Kemp estimated. A monthly car-sharing plan for people who drive a lot could cost around $350.
With condominiums and mixed-use developments cropping up Utah's capital, Councilman J.T. Martin said U Car Share can help support a more urban environment.
Kemp also added the program encourages people to use public transportation more and cars less, thereby helping improve air quality and reduce fuel consumption.
With mass transit growing in Utah, said UTA General Manager John Inglish, car sharing is just another part of a balanced transportation system.
"This moves Salt Lake City into the arena of world-class transportation," he said.
U Car Share is available to licensed drivers 18 years old and older, with at least two years of experience behind the wheel for a one-time fee of $25.
Members who enroll at ucarshare.com -- after a background check for recent driving violations, such as DUI or speeding -- can reserve a car online for either hourly blocks or even weekend trips. Basic costs start at $4.95 per hour plus 59 cents per mile, or there are rate plans for people who need to take multiple trips.
The fees include insurance and 24-hour customer service and road-side assistance for the vehicles.
The program works by giving members an electronic card that they use to unlock and lock the car by swiping it over a transmitter box below the driver's side windshield. After reserving a car online, a member walks, bikes or rides a bus to the designated parking spot, swipes the e-card to open a door and gets the car keys from the glove box. Once done, the member returns the car to the same location, puts the keys back in the glove box, gets out and swipes the e-card to lock the door.
U Car Share began in 2007 and is operating in Portland, Ore.; Eugene, Ore.; Portland, Maine; Virginia Tech university; Madison, Wis.; and Berkeley, Calif. Members in one state can use the program at any of the national locations.