For the Carless, a Way to Run Errands

The cars are so smart, they know who’s driving.

An electronic reader on the windshield verifies the driver’s computer-chip-enhanced key fob, deactivates the alarm system, unlocks the doors and kicks the ignition into go. Then a monitoring box takes over, clocking the driver’s time behind the wheel and total miles driven. At the end of the month, a bill arrives: $10 for the monthly membership fee, plus $4 per hour (or $2 off-peak, between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.) and 44 cents per mile.

“We’re trying to provide an affordable, convenient option to private car ownership,” says Annie Bourdon, San Francisco director of the nonprofit City CarShare, which placed two cars on campus in September. “We’re giving people a choice who may not have access to a car or can’t afford to own.”

Which describes a lot of Stanford students. Freshmen are not permitted to bring autos to the Farm. Just 35 percent of undergrads and 56 percent of grad students have cars on campus. Plus, “the cars could be an incentive to get [faculty and staff] to use public transportation, if they knew they could have a car on campus to go to appointments and run errands,” says Brodie Hamilton, director of Parking and Transportation Services.

Two silvery-blue Honda Civic hybrids are standing by in the Tresidder and Serra Street parking lots. An oh-so-cute signature green Beetle is available in the CarShare pod at the Caltrain station in Palo Alto. Drivers wanted.