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Car co-op looking at Whistler

Co-operative Auto Network offers lower-cost solutions for drivers WHAT: Monthly AWARE meeting WHO: Suji Moon of the Co-operative Auto Network WHERE: Delta Whistler Resort WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 2, 7 p.m.

Co-operative Auto Network offers lower-cost solutions for drivers

WHAT: Monthly AWARE meeting

WHO: Suji Moon of the Co-operative Auto Network

WHERE: Delta Whistler Resort

WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 2, 7 p.m.

The Vancouver-based Co-operative Auto Network (CAN) is looking into the possibility of setting up a co-op in Whistler, giving people yet another alternative to car ownership.

Owning a car is an expensive prospect, to say the least. According to CAN, the typical cost of driving a car in the Lower Mainland is $8,500 a year, once you factor in the cost of depreciation, insurance, fuel, and average out the cost of regular and special maintenance.

You can lease a car for about $200 a month, but insurance, gas and maintenance will cost another $200, bringing your commitment to $400 a month.

If you don’t drive every day, or only need that second car occasionally, it may make more sense economically, and environmentally, to join a car co-op.

CAN already has more than 1,300 members and 68 cars, with the majority of locations in Greater Vancouver, as well as satellite locations in Nanaimo, Tofino, Courtenay and on Cortes Island. Members can sign-up for cars in any of the participating communities.

"We have locations throughout Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, and we are seeing if there is enough interest to purchase a vehicle in Whistler," said Suji Moon, executive director of CAN. Whistler appears to be a good fit for CAN.

"Whistler residents seem to be more environmentally aware in general, but as part of the lifestyle it seems you do need a vehicle occasionally," she said. "To purchase a car up there, we would need 16 to 20 people to sign on."

The concept is simple. To be part of a car co-op through CAN, you have to pay a one-time registration fee of $20, and put up a deposit of $500 to purchase a share. That money will be returned to you if you leave the co-op.

Once you’re in, you can take a look at your driving needs and opt for either the Lower Usage Plan, the Moderate Usage Plan or the Higher Usage Plan.

The Lower Usage Plan, for people driving 150 km/month on average, costs $60 a year for administrative fees and 32 cents per kilometre.

The Moderate Usage Plan, for people driving less than 225 km/month on average, costs $12.50 a month and 27 cents per kilometre.

The Higher Usage Plan, for people driving more than 225 km/month, costs $35 a month and 17 cents per kilometre.

In addition, all plans charge $1.75 an hour for use, to a maximum of $21. Both the Moderate Usage Plan and Higher Usage Plan are part of a larger Flex Plan, whereby CAN will assess your vehicle use for the month, and charge you according to the plan.

The majority of CAN members pay an average of $75 a month, although costs can be higher based on use.

The cost of each plan includes driver insurance, fuel, maintenance, regular cleaning (users will have to pay for special cleaning), a BCAA membership, and parking. In Whistler, the RMOW has already agreed to provide parking for a CAN vehicle, said Moon.

The Whistler vehicle would not only be available for Whistler residents, but for all CAN members in B.C., just as cars in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island can be used by residents of Whistler.

According to Moon, the service is used by all kinds of different customers, from young people who can’t afford a decent, dependable car, to professionals who can write off their car usage as a business expense.

"There is a whole combination of reasons why people are signing up," said Moon. "For some people it’s the idea that it’s more environmentally friendly. For others, it’s more finance-worthy than buying a car."

Emma DalSanto, the transportation demand management planner for the RMOW, said she believes that the program could work in Whistler, once the information gets out.

"(CAN) believes there is a lot of possibility in Whistler for this kind of program, like in Tofino and Nanaimo.

"Whether it comes here or not though is really up to the community."

For DalSanto, the value of the car co-op is the fact that it offers people yet another viable alternative to car ownership.

"Various things could happen," she said. "People could give up their second car. In some cases it will mean people don’t even need to buy a first car.

"What it is really about is choice. People can choose the best mode of transportation for a particular trip.

"If a car is sitting out there in the driveway, and the owner has paid everything on it, people say ‘I might as well drive it because I paid for it’. They don’t see the depreciation, or the wear and tear costs.

"With the car co-op, you’re not really paying for the car when you’re not using it, other than the administrative costs."

CAN collected the names of interested Whistlerites at the pancake breakfast kicking off the two-week Commuter Challenge on Sept. 17, and has been in discussions with the Whistler Housing Authority.

WHA administrator Marla Zucht said that the housing authority is interested in being a part of a CAN pilot project in Whistler, and would inform renters and homeowners of the project in a mail-out.

"We’re looking at it logistically to figure out how to make it work," said Zucht.

WHA clients are locals who are typically on a fixed budget, and not everyone can afford vehicles. The WHA also charges renters $60 a month for parking spots.

"For our rental properties we have disincentives for owning a car," said Zucht. "This would give them the option of driving when they needed to without paying for parking.

"The co-op seems like a good fit for us."

Moon will be the special guest at the next AWARE meeting on Thursday, Oct. 2. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at the Delta Whistler Resort.

DalSanto will also be making a short presentation.