PORTLAND — A new car-sharing program in the city is offering free membership for a limited time.
U Car, a program of U-Haul, is partnering with the city to provide four shared vehicles on the peninsula. The U Car-labeled Chrysler PT Cruisers are kept in reserved parking spaces: on Elm Street next to the Portland Public Library and on Commercial Street next to the entrance to Casco Bay Lines and the Maine State Pier.
Mike Peverada, the city’s parking manager, said car sharing helps reduce demand for parking and traffic congestion, and also helps reduce greenhouse gases.
“This allows people to have a car without owning one,” Peverada said Monday at the launch of the new service.
According to the U Car Web site, hourly rental of one of the cars is $9.50. For a day, a car costs $66. The Web site also shows what times are already reserved or available.
Membership is usually $50. To take advantage of the limited-time free membership, log on to the site and enter MAINEPRESSRELEASE2009. Users can also call 1-866-323-4591.
Members do not have to put fuel in the vehicles, said Jeffrey Vaine, president of U-Haul of Maine and New Hampshire, but will qualify for discounts if they do. Employees from the local U-Haul service will maintain the cars.
To access the cars, U Car members get a SmartCard that allows entry to the car reserved at the time reserved. There are GPS trackers in the vehicles to gauge distance.
Vaine said U-Haul is committed to implementing initiatives to help raise awareness about the environment and greenhouse gases. He also said the car-sharing program is a good one in light of the current economy.
“We’ve found that customers out there today are economizing,” he said.”We’ve got to start somewhere.”
The U Car program is also available in Berkeley, Calif., Madison, Wis. and Portland, Ore. City officials have been working on the local car-share program since last September. At that time they said U Car was selected over its more well-known rival, Zipcar, in part because U Car does not require the city’s financial support if usage fails to meet the company’s expectations.
Jeffrey Vaine, left, president of U Haul of New Hampshire and Maine, and John Peverada, Portland’s parking manager, introduce the U Car program last Friday outside the Casco Bay Lines terminal on Commercial Street. Four dedicated parking spaces, two outside the ferry terminal and two at the Public Library, will be home to U Car vehicles.