Electric carshare program launches at Avalon Housing apartments

Jul 10, 2024News

Originally published on MLive by Abigail VanderMolen on May 31, 2024 at 11:09 a.m.

ANN ARBOR, MI – Residents of Avalon Housing’s Carrot Way Apartments now have a new option for transportation: an electric vehicle carshare program.

Avalon Housing hosted a kickoff event for the service Thursday, May 30 in collaboration with other nonprofits who worked to make the carshare program a reality.

The carshare service is open to both Carrot Way residents and members of the general public. Signing up for the service typically takes about a week and includes a DMV check of the applicant’s driving record, said Richard Kosmacher, senior program manager for Mobility Development, a partner on the project.

Renting a vehicle through the program costs $5 an hour and caps at $50 a day. Users do not have to pay for electricity to charge the vehicles, and the program includes a free roadside assistance program for drivers, Kosmacher said.

The rideshare vehicles will operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. Each vehicle must be returned to its permanent location – meaning users who rent the car stationed at Carrot Way must return it to that location – but once the car is returned and sufficiently charged, anyone in the program can check the car out from its charging station

The project is a result of years of collaboration between organizations including Elevate, Forth Mobility, Michigan Clean Cities Coalition and Mobility Development, and is part of Forth’s nationwide Affordable Mobility Platform.

Avalon Executive Director Aaron Cooper said the program is important because transportation can pose challenges for low-income populations.

“Transportation, for you all that don’t know, especially in low-income neighborhoods, low-income populations, tends to be a very large hurdle,” Cooper said.

One electric vehicle is permanently stationed at Carrot Way, and has been operating at the location for a few weeks prior to the launch event. The other car’s permanent home is at a new location at Baker Commons in Ann Arbor.

Carrot Way resident Susan Farley decided to sign up for the carshare program when she saw the electric vehicle in her parking lot.

“When I started seeing the car, I was like, ‘what is that?’ and then I came over and looked at it and the website was listed on the vehicle, and they also put fliers on our doors about the car share program,” Farley said.

Farley plans to use the service for trips she can’t easily make via public transportation.

“I’m not planning to use it for everyday transportation, because I’ll use the buses for that,” Farley said. “But you know, for things that are larger shopping trips, or for shopping for items that are larger than you can normally take on the bus, or for going outside of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area.”

Maggie Striz Calnin, director of Michigan Clean Cities Coalition, said the project began in 2021 when Forth Mobility reached out to Michigan-based organizations about expanding their Affordable Mobility Platform to the state.

“All of us partners together here in the state were able to offer input on how this thing should come together, and collaborated to reach out to different site hosts,” Striz Calnin said. “In this case, Avalon was already on board and was ready to go so it worked out really well.”

The program also has locations in Kalamazoo and Detroit. Within Ann Arbor, there are plans to open new locations at Avalon’s Hickory Way Apartments and Miller Apartments over the summer, according to Kosmacher.

Users will not be able to reserve an electric car ahead of time, according to Cooper, but Farley said the availability of multiple locations gives her more options.

“If I’m able to rent this one, great, but if it’s not available, knowing that I can go to Baker Commons and rent the vehicle is great because I can take the bus there,” Farley said.

In an interview, Cooper said securing funding was the most time-consuming part of the three-year process.

“Once funding was in place, the car and the infrastructure, in terms of the electric infrastructure, was pretty quick after that,” Cooper said. “It was a matter of months once that all got sorted.”

DTE Energy partnered with the project as part of their Transportation Electrification Emerging Tech Fund. Pina Bennett, director of electric marketing at DTE, said that the company’s goal is to make electric vehicles more affordable and accessible.

“We hope that through our efforts, through our collective efforts, we can make the dream of making sure that every person in Michigan has the opportunity to make the switch to an EV affordably and easily,” Bennet said.

Cooper said the program is an important example of what sort of transportation options are possible in low-income neighborhoods.

“For me is just it demonstrates that you can do things like this in neighborhoods that typically didn’t have access,” Cooper said. “Having an electric vehicle station, you know, low cost transportation, that’s huge for folks that that can’t afford a car that just need to go to Walmart or somewhere … I think the impact (is something) we can’t even measure.”