Station cars are still around in a number of U.S. cities, may eventually arrive in others and are being reincarnated in at least one other city, San Francisco. Europeans have been doing this since 1948, and have more than 100,000 participants.
The station car concept is this: You rent a small electric car at your commuter rail station, drive it home at the end of the day and drive it back to the station for your commute the next day. That saves the polluting effects of the family gas-guzzler and takes up less space to park at the train station.
During a 28-month test at the Bay Area Rapid Transit District in San Francisco, 98 people participated, driving 40 cars 154,802 miles. That meant more passengers for BART ($18,464 more revenue), less pollution from internal combustion cars (participant passenger miles in internal combustion cars decreased by 94%) and more carpools.
San Francisco has begun a new round of station car use, with a twist on the formula. More on that later.
According to Dr. Martin J. Bernard III, executive director of the National Station Car Association, here is what's happening with the rest of the program around the country:
Atlanta's program is not yet funded. Boston's program, with 26 cars, is going strong, as are station cars in White Plains, N.Y., and New Jersey. No funding yet on Long Island. Los Angeles ran a program for a year. The plan in Sacramento, Calif., never got off the ground. A scheme for Washington, D.C., is uncertain.
But for Portland, Ore., Bernard says a program manager has been appointed and the initial employers are being sought for startup.
Bernard also hopes his program gets a boost from a new station car subcommittee at the American Public Transit Association.
The reincarnated program in San Francisco now uses CNG cars. But the cars will get a lot more use. It's like tag-team wrestling. One commuter drives the car from home to the station. Another commuter drives the car from the station to work. Others at the work site use the car during the day. Then someone drives it back to the station to begin the cycle anew.
Fees vary from $60 to $200 a month depending on use and who gets the car on weekends. That includes maintenance, insurance and fuel.
About 60 people share 12 1998 Honda Civic CNG loaner cars now in San Francisco. Bernard says BART is also looking for a car-rental company to share some space at the train stations.
"That would probably be conventional cars," he said. "But the cars would also be for multiple users. We have to convince the car-rental companies there's business for them here."