Staff ed: Put the car back in CarShare

Last week, Student Life reported that Washington University would be renewing its CarShare partnership with Enterprise. In theory, the CarShare program is great for students—for only $5 an hour, students can rent one of the cars parked in multiple locations around campus to use to their hearts’ content. While rental cars typically require a driver be 25 years old or older, the CarShare program is open to all Wash. U. students aged 18 and up with a valid driver’s license. Students also don’t need to worry about paying for gas, as they can use credit cards left in each car to refuel if needed.

While the program sounds good on paper, in practice, students are underserved by the implementation of the CarShare program on campus. CarShare is riddled with flaws—spanning from an insufficient number of cars to a lack of maintenance—all of which are easily solvable problems that, if fixed, would make a big difference for the program.

Currently, Wash. U. has 25 cars in nine different locations. Of the nine locations, five Danforth Campus or South 40 locations count 19 cars among them. The remaining six cars are spread out across West Campus, the Medical School, North Campus and the Donald Danforth Plant Center. For the overwhelming majority of undergraduate students, cars not kept on the Danforth Campus or South 40 are difficult to get to without incurring extra costs through Uber trips just to get to the cars themselves, which defeats the purpose of CarShare as an affordable option.

And it can be near-impossible to find an available car on campus. If a student is able to find a car, it it not uncommon for it to be at an obscure or inconvenient time. But with the recent changes to parking on campus—including the revocation of parking privileges for sophomores—students need additional cars now more than ever. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Rob Wild told Student Life in September 2016 that both due to parking changes implemented this year and to provide an option for students without cars, the University would consider adding more car sharing options. However, no changes have been made all year.

Similar to the U-Pass program, which gives students the ability to ride public transportation like Metro buses, MetroLink light-rail system and Call-A-Ride paratransit service, more cars will give students alternative ways to explore the St. Louis metropolitan region, bursting the oft-criticized “Wash. U. bubble.”

In addition to the lack of cars, the vehicles available are rarely clean or free of functional problems. Almost always, students are met with a previous users’ trash or even broken seatbelts. While the University could add more maintenance checks to ensure cars are in working order, ultimately, having a car sharing program is a privilege for students—and it is incumbent upon us to respect this shared resource. It’s disappointing and embarrassing for college-aged individuals to not pick up after themselves. It’s also imperative that CarShare users report, on the program’s website or app, when cars have any sort of mechanical problem.

Having a car sharing program is a major advantage for students, serving as a cost-effective and convenient alternative to owning a car or using expensive rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft. Adding more cars to meet the existing demand will only increase the student experience and students’ ability to immerse themselves in St. Louis.