Businesses in major metropolitan areas now have an option to the hassles of parking and maintaining little-used fleet vehicles. The concept is called car sharing. Companies have use of a vehicle available at a set location, and pay only for the hours and miles they drive. Parking fees, insurance, maintenance and vehicle depreciation are worries left up to the car-sharing provider. The idea began in Europe and has only recently made its mark in America, primarily in more populated cities where parking is a major hassle. “I don’t know what the average statistics are, but fleet cars on average are used less than two hours a day – most less than an hour a day,” said Lance Ayrault, CEO and President of Seattle-based Flexcar. Most car-sharing systems start by members choosing a usage-level plan. Members either reserve a vehicle online or by calling the company. They then choose from any number of vehicles parked in specific areas. Some providers have a wide-selection of vehicles, including gas-electric hybrids, sedans, pickups, minivans, convertibles and specialty vehicles. Cars are unlocked via a company card. A special code is inputted on the glovebox to access the ignition key. Members are billed afterward, and are generally required to return the vehicle to the same location. Most car-sharing providers have different levels of service depending on need. In Flexcar’s case, individual members can pay from a little over $100 a month, or about $9 an hour. For business members, Flexcar offers an exclusive plan for $1600 a month per vehicle, which provides a dedicated company car that can even be used after-hours. Semi-exclusive members have vehicle access during normal business hours for $1,400 a month per vehicle. General users can pay $175 or more depending on the hours and drivers expected per month. The process is like paying for a cell phone, Ayrault said. Additionally, the burden of mobility management from the business is removed since car share providers do all the work from managing the availability of the vehicles to tracking overall use, including employee and department use and hours and miles driven. “We fully believe that to provide transportation, people should feel good about the fact that the vehicle being used is very efficient,” Ayrault said. “Our growth is a direct result of the success we’re having in convincing businesses that ours is a very viable and competitive alternative to owning your own fleet.” Steve Kluskens, office manager for Flansburgh Associates Inc. in Boston, is a member of Zipcar, a Boston-based provider. Klusken was very impressed with the organization because they had the right idea at the right time. Using Zipcar not only opened up parking spaces in Boston, but it also gave a sense of accomplishment, he said. “The icing on the cake, of course, is that Zipcar is also greener. We're using cars now that other people are using, instead of holding two just for our use,” Kluskens said. “There's a sense you get when you step out of the car, leaving it for the next guy, knowing that your expense and responsibility to the vehicle is done right there, that this is smart.”