WeCar: DU sustainable-transportation program surpasses expectations in first week

In the little more than a week since the University of Denver's most recent sustainability effort began, it has surpassed the national average for early membership. WeCar, a program in which DU partners with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to provide shared rides to students and their neighbors in the area, began September 8 and has already attracted 39 members, a rate hike in comparison to the company's average opening weeks.

The decision to enlist WeCar instead of larger, more popular options signaled the end of a months-long search on the part of the campus selection committee. In the end, WeCar was chosen because of its start-up benefits, which allow any student older than eighteen and community member older than 21 to rent one of the campus' two shared 2012 Ford Focuses with a driver's license. Students who aren't yet allowed to rent a car at the airport may do so through WeCar, and international licenses aren't excluded from eligibility.

This latest step in the campus' focus on sustainable transportation comes in addition to its B-Cycle bike-sharing initiative and the Eco Pass option, through which all students, faculty and staff can take RTD transportation for free.

"Many students need to go places that the Light Rail and the RTD bus system doesn't service in a timely manner," says Buddy Knox, DU's manager of parking services. The program is predominantly targeted toward the freshman and sophomore classes, only 50 percent of which generally park their own cars on campus. "They need to get places quickly, and if you don't have a car, it's really hard to do some of those things without asking for favors or sponging off your roommate or something.

"We encourage you to take the bus and the right rail, and then when you really need it, the car is there."

Accident history isn't taken into account, and a membership to the WeCar program includes insurance with a $500 physical damage deductible. Although the cars are geared mainly toward the students for whom they're the handiest, they're also open to those in the surrounding area. The program, which will maintain spots on 50 campuses by the beginning of October, is currently home to 27 fully activated members and 12 pending members in Denver.

The city is WeCar's second Colorado campus home, in addition to an earlier spot at Regis University. The CEO of WeCar's parent company, Enterprise Holdings, is Andrew Taylor, himself a 1970 DU alumnus. Although the program is supported by DU entirely through space -- not funds -- Knox says the university is open to the addition of more WeCars if the response rate continues.

"It's a very successful first week," WeCar representative Lisa Martini says. "The previous week was freshman move-in week, so this is the actual first week when all the students are back, and to get forty members the first week is an indication of the interest level. I was surprised by those numbers when I got them because it's one of our better first weeks."

Those who want to use a shared car must start online: Members apply through WeCar's website, and the $35 application fee is counteracted by an immediate $35 in credit for DU faculty, staff and students. Within a week, new members will receive an ID card the mail with an RFID code embedded in it. Once they reserve a car -- online, by phone, via an app or through e-mail -- the card will unlock the WeCar and let it know who's using it and for how long.

This is especially helpful when it comes to gas (a card in the glovebox allows you to refill without paying out of pocket) and late fees (If you overstay the time you reserved, you will be charged extra). The car costs $7.50 an hour and $55 for the day.

Right now, DU's two cars maintain spots on the north and south sides of the campus, though an increase in cars is a future possibility. The day the university signed the contract, officials informed the student body, faculty and staff about the service through a mass e-mail blast, and the campus' neighborhood liaisons plan to spread the word locally at their next few community meetings.

"For some people, the jury's still out: They want to see how it works, whether they actually need it, things like that," Knox says. "That makes sense, but for the sustainability community, it was the best next step. It's just a good idea."