Car-sharing slow to catch on at NU

Alexandra Finkel

Edmund Rollett can head to the Arts Circle Drive parking lot, find a parked car in a reserved spot, press a card to the windshield and – like magic – the door will unlock automatically. Once he’s gotten the keys from the glove box, he can take the car wherever he wants.

Of course, he has to make a reservation first, and he can’t have the car for more than 24 hours.

Rollet is a member of I-Go Car Sharing, a Chicago-based nonprofit company that offers more than 200 cars available for use throughout the Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park areas.

Since its inception as a pilot program in 2002, the program has served more than 11,000 members, said Richard Kosmacher, I-Go’s business development manager.

Still, the program has struggled to catch on since it came to Northwestern in 2006. Although there are two I-Go cars on campus and a possible third car in the works, there are currently only 367 NU members, including faculty, staff and students, registered for the service, said Brian Peters, director of university services.

Rollet said the price attracted him to the program.

“Having my own car here in Evanston would be very useful, but it’s something I don’t need, especially because parking is difficult and owning a car is expensive,” the Music senior said.

Rollet paid a $25 membership fee when he signed up in January and now pays between $8 and $10 for every hour he has the car, depending on the time and day of the week.

But sharing a car under I-Go’s program is a bit different than renting a car from Enterprise. The price covers gas, maintenance and insurance. I-Go members reserve a specific car by logging online and can have the car for any amount of time between a half-hour and 24 hours. And if gas falls below a quarter-tank, drivers are required to fill the tank using an I-Go credit card.

Although Rollet has only used an I-Go car 10 to 15 times in the past 10 months, he said his membership is worth the fee.

“I was sick of having to ask my friends to use their cars,” he said. “Plus, it makes going to places like Costco much easier – and actually possible.”

I-Go approached Northwestern in 2006 after the program found success in Evanston and at the University of Chicago, Kosmacher said. When NU’s first I-Go car was introduced, the program was only open to those older than 21, which excluded most of the student population, Peters said.

But early last year, the program changed its policies, allowing students enrolled at a university between the ages of 18 and 21 to join. Nevertheless, the number of students using the service has increased slowly in the past two years. The problem may be low advertising, Peters said.

“Flyers sit in the WildCARD office and other places across campus, but there’s a huge gap in trying to reach new students,” Peters said.

The University of Chicago has found more success with the I-Go system, said Brian Shaw, director of transportation and parking at the University of Chicago. Shaw attributes the success to his unique program: Every new student and faculty member who does not drive to campus is given a free membership to I-Go from the university itself to encourage use of the service.

“It’s a way for people to try car-sharing with the absolutely no financial commitment,” Shaw said. “Students have access to the cars at any time, but they don’t have to feel like they’re out anything.”

Weinberg freshman Ed Klebanov said the I-Go car program is a great idea, but doesn’t think it’s very practical for NU students.

“I would probably never use it because there’s always NU shuttles, the El and the Metra,” Klebanov said. “It’s like getting Six Flags season passes and then only going once. It’s just not worth it.”

[email protected]