Winnipeg car co-op expanding to become more accessible, flexible

Erin Reidiger relies on Peg City Car Co-op as one of many modes of transportation she uses.

For years, she’s been able to book a car, pick it up from one of several locations, and bring it back at a set time.

Now, the co-op is preparing to launch a new free-floating service that lets people take a car from anywhere without having to bring it back to the same location.

“Right now, what I do is I book a car in advance — whether that’s a few days, a week or an hour before,” she said. 

“But sometimes there are those trips where you need a car right away.”

Along with the launch of a new app that will display the locations of all its vehicles, the car-sharing service is set to create a new model that would let users leave the vehicles anywhere in that zone where street parking is normally allowed. 

Although there would be a cap on the length of time vehicles can be used, there would be no requirement to specify when the vehicle would be returned, and no set location where it must be dropped off, as long as it’s in a specified zone within the city where parking is normally allowed.

On Tuesday, the city’s public works committee voted to remove time limits for on-street parking for vehicles that are part of the service. 

They also got a look at a map showing where the new free-floating service would be offered.

“It’s part of a roughly 14 square kilometre zone that encompasses many of the inner core neighborhoods that we already provide service for through our round trip service,” said co-op CEO Philip Mikulec.

Those areas include the West End, West Broadway, Corydon, Osborne Village, and St. Boniface, he said.

The change comes amid growing demand for the car co-op, which launched in 2011. After seeing slow growth over the first six years, from three vehicles to 20, the service has now grown to 90 vehicles.

With the launch of its free-floating service, it will add another 35 cars to its fleet.

“Basically, that just means much greater flexibility, much easier last-minute use and not having to worry about when you need to return that car and being late,” said Mikulec.

To help finance that expansion, the co-op has applied to the provincial Community Enterprise Development tax credit program to raise $600,000. The program offers refundable tax credits up to 45 per cent to people and corporations who buy shares in community-based enterprises, up to $60,000 each.

Investors must hold the shares for four years, after which the car co-op buys back the shares over the course of four years.

The car-sharing service has also seen steadily increasing profits, and issued its first dividend to shareholders of three per cent last year.

Lisa Patterson, manager of operations and facilities for public works, said the city is still finalizing the application form for the car co-op to apply for the special permits allowing the vehicles to be left on the street. 

The city expects to be ready to support the service by June, she said.

“This is good news day for the parking authority in this city. We’re excited about the expansion,” she said.