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Car Share

If Liz Reynolds can get 30 cars off the streets in her neighbourhood, « That would be terrific,’’ she says.

If she can do that in fifty neighbourhoods — or a hundred neighbourhoods — and her eyes lock on mine to emphasize how serious she is, « Then we can make a real impact.’’

She’s talking about car sharing, and about opening her first operation, within the next two to three months, in one of three locations: in her own neighbourhood south of Danforth Ave. in Riverdale, in the Annex, at Bloor and Spadina, or in the St. Lawrence Market area.

In a neighbourhood, there will be five or six cars serving twenty-five to thirty members, all within a five-minute walk from where the cars are kept. She calls this a pod.

But 100 pods around Toronto? And 3,000 members?

Reynolds was prepared for this incredulity. With only a hint of a smile, she reaches into her bag and slips out a clipping from the Financial Times of London. It reports that, as of last May, StadtAuto GmbH, a car sharing company in Berlin, was operating 140 vehicles and had a membership of 3,200 people . . . and it expected 50 per cent growth in the coming year.

If Berlin can do it, why can’t Toronto?

That kind of attitude seems to be spreading across the country. In Guelph, Bill Barrett of the Clean Air Co-op is in the final stages of arranging financing for a car-sharing venture.

In Vancouver the Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) has been operating for about a month and a half. VanCity Credit Union and Co-operators Insurance Co. each gave CAN a grant of $20,000 to cover startup costs.

« They really believe in social responsibility in business,’’ says Tracy Axelssen, CAN’s executive director. « They’re impressive organizations.’’ CAN is starting with three cars and about 24 people. It’s target is 20 cars and 200 members within two years.

In Victoria, Kathryn Molloy launched the Victoria Car Share Co-operative a month ago on a shoestring of $1,900. It has two cars and 21 people. Instead of grants, she had « complete commitment’’ from volunteers and from donors contacted in a letter-writing campaign.

In Quebec, Benoit Robert runs Communauto in Montreal and Auto-Com in Quebec City. Auto-Com, started in August 1994, now has 23 cars and 300 members, and covers most of central Quebec City.

Communauto, begun in September 1995, has 13 cars and 200 members in Plateau Royal, on the east side of Mont Royal. Benoit thinks it can expand into other neighbourhoods and reach a membership of 3,000.

All the organizations charge a membership fee of about $500 which is refundable when a member leaves, annual dues of up to $350, and mileage charges that vary according to the amount of the membership fee and the amount of use a member makes of a car.

In Toronto, Reynolds has a brochure ready for the printer announcing that AutoShare Inc., a non-profit, car-sharing company, will bring: « No more parking problems. No more car payments. No more surprise repair bills.’’

In some neighbourhoods, she is targeting people whose second car spends a good part of its lifetime sitting in the driveway eating up insurance payments and depreciating in value at a ferocious rate. In other neighbourhoods she is targeting people with modest incomes in hopes of persuading them « to get their old clunkers off the road.’’

AutoShare is a partnership between two of Toronto’s more prominent coalitions: LIFT (Low Income Families Together), and LETS (Local Employment and Trading System). The trading system, for those who have not yet heard of it, allows members to trade services and goods for « green dollars’’ that are tracked on a LETS computer.

Financing for AutoShare is almost in place, says Reynolds. She’s a professional fundraiser and a former New Yorker who came to Canada in 1970 because her husband refused to fight in the Vietnam War. « I immediately fell in love with Toronto,’’ she says. It’s such a wonderful place. Now it’s my community  and I care about it, and I want to make a difference.’’

She can be reached at 465-1366.

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