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Innovative Car Sharing Serves Rural Communities

By: Bill Higgins on Sep 30, 2020
Mio Car Charging Station

It is almost too good to be true: a rural, all-electric, affordable car sharing service where the primary charging stations are located at new housing developments that are accessible to low income households. That is the idea behind the Mio Car project, which is providing rural residents in Kern and Tulare Counties affordable access to vehicles on an hourly or daily basis.  

All they need is a smart phone, license, a reasonably good driving record, and $20 for the membership.

 

The goal is to provide an easy option to run errands, go to medical appointments, get to job interviews, or meet other daily needs. The rate is $4 per hour or $35 per day ($45 on weekends). Insurance and car maintenance are included in the rates.  And because the cars are electric, gas is not an expense.  The cars are parked at charging stations installed at affordable housing complexes in communities of Dinuba, Orosi, Visalia, Wasco and Arvin.  Residents--and the public--can reserve and pick up the cars at any hour.

The Mio Car program addresses a critical challenge faced by rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley, where greater distances, lower population densities, and longer travel times make cost-effective transit service a challenge (to say the least). As a result, rural residents must contend with infrequent and inconvenient service.  For most households, access to a personal car is essential for health care, education, grocery stores, and other basic services.  But keeping a car in reliable working order consumes a significant share of the household budget for low-income families. 

"I loved the convenience of using Miocar,” said Laura Aguilera from Dinuba. “It was fun to drive and very easy to get in and out of, even with car seats for my kids, making emergency trips to the store easy and enjoyable.”   The typical user is less than 44 years old, lives in a household with 4 to 6 people and has an income of $25,000 to $50,000 per year.  

Mio Car, which has not yet been in operation for a full year, now has 27 electric vehicles ( Chevy Bolts, BMW i3s, and Hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans) in service and 17 dual-port EV Charges.  They are serviced by the California Vanpool Authority.   As of January 1, there were about 170 users and reservation counts doubling about every four weeks.  The typical reservation lasts 8 hours and includes 50 miles traveled.     including  They will be powered by 17 level 2 dual-port chargers.    

How it Started

This project is an outcome a meeting between the 8 executive directors of the Valley's Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Dan Sperling.  Mr. Sperling, of course, in addition to being a member of the Air Resources Board responsible for setting emission reduction targets under SB 375, is the Director of the UC Davis ITS and author of the book, Three Revolutions, which focuses on the simultaneous advance of autonomous vehicles, electrification and ride sharing.  Not surprisingly, the subject soon turned to electric ride sharing (autonomous will come later). 

But just like an apricot tree in Tulare County, the conversation bore fruit.  The MPOs began to collaborating with other Valley organizations to explore the idea. The first act was to submit a joint planning planning grant (the MPOs, UC Davis, transit agencies, and Caltrans) to conduct a feasibility study for electric car sharing services in the rural areas.  Based on the study findings, the MPOs then worked together to select the concepts and locations where pilot projects would make the most sense.  (Factors analyzed included potential operating costs, improved mobility, access in rural disadvantaged communities, and potential for scaleability).  

The study identified what would become the Mio Car project as one of the most feasible alternatives. This lead to a subsequent grant application, this time to the California Climate Initiative grant (a cap and trade program), which included the Mio Car concept.  The program is administered by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Operating partners include Self Help Enterprises (an affordable housing developer), California Vanpool Authority, and Mobility Development Fresno.  The pilot is designed by UCDavis Transportation Institute.  The Tulare County Association of Governments and Kern Council of Governments are supporting this program through substantial local cash matches. TCAG and Kern COG are also working on a multi-agency working group to that help guide the location of charging stations, services provided, and other key inputs to the project planning including coordination with other rural public transit providers.  

 

  

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