Waterloo region's Community Carshare becomes Vrtucar

When Community Carshare began Ontario's first carsharing program 20 years ago, it was just 10 friends and a donated 1998 Toyota Tercel. Now the province's first official carsharing service has 2,000 active members and has been sold to Commmunauto — and subsidiary Vrtucar.

Community Carshare faced financial difficulties, limited resources to expand service

Community Carshare has more than 60 vehicles across southwestern Ontario. Vrtucar, and parent company Communauto, purchased the company effective March 27. (Community Carshare/YouTube)

Ontario's original carsharing service has been sold to the country's largest one — Communauto — and Ontario subsidiary Vrtucar. 

Members voted to sell the co-op in the fall at a special general meeting with the sale closing date set for Tuesday, March 27.

"Community Carshare, they've definitely been having some financial difficulties," explained Wilson Wood, president and CEO of Vrtucar. 

"They just simply weren't in a position to be able to expand their service or upgrade their fleet or their technology," Wood said. "They certainly were cash strapped and they needed a hand."

He said his company felt it was important to preserve carsharing in southwestern Ontario and moved to purchase the co-operative. 

The co-op's six paid staff will keep their jobs and will continue working out of its office in downtown Kitchener for now, one staff member told CBC K-W.

The People’s Car Co-operative Inc. began with just one car in 1998: a donated 1988 Toyota Tercel. The co-op's second vehicle, pictured here, was a 1991 Honda Accord. (Submitted by: Community CarShare)

Carsharing across southwestern Ontario

Community Carshare was a co-operatively run service that started in 1998 as just 10 friends and a donated 1988 Toyota Tercel. Then, it was called The People's Car Co-operative Inc.

Twenty years later, the carsharing service has more than 60 vehicles — primarily in Waterloo region, but also extending into Hamilton, Guelph, Elmira, Burlington and London. 

In a message to members on March 25, the co-op's board of directors thanked members for their patience and understanding as staff worked through the handover. 

Change in rate plans, technology

"While we anticipate some significant operational changes over the months and years ahead, your staff have been working hard and are taking an active role in facilitating a smooth transition," the message said.

"Vrtucar management has a solid understanding of our operations, and they are looking forward to serving you." 

Wood, however, said members shouldn't notice much of a difference with Vrtucar at the helm. 

"In terms of people using the cars, on a day-to-day basis, there's absolutely no difference," Wood said. "There's going to be a change in rate plans and technology — but those are all to the good. Really to the user of the service: it's business as usual."

 One thing that will change is reservation rates — soon to be cheaper, according to an example given by Communauto president Marco Viviani in a news release Tuesday afternoon.

"Members under the 'Occasional' plan would pay $16.50 for a 1.5-hour, 15 kilometres trip. Under VRTUCAR's price structure and it's most popular 'Value' plan, the same trip would cost $11.78 to a Community CarShare member, a 29 per cent saving, or $11.25 with the Open plan, no monthly fee." 

Bittersweet transition

Katharine Albrecht was one of the co-op's early members and joined in 2002, when she was a Master's student at the University of Waterloo.

"Back then, there were four vehicles. I was member number 48," she said.

"To book it you called the office cellphone, which was carried around by the office manager, day and night, and she recorded your reservation in a daytimer." 

She said she joined because as a student, owning a car just wasn't practical. 

"Not everything you need to do is around the university and it was an exciting way to have access to a car without having to have the cost of owning one," she said. 

Fifteen years later, she and her husband are still active members. 

Albrecht said seeing the carshare change from a co-operative venture to a private business is bittersweet but probably for the best. 

"I admit that part of me is a little disappointed but at the same time I want it to thrive and if what the carshare needs to do is to leave the co-op roots and become a business in order to thrive, that's fine," she said. 

"I'd like to see it continue and grow."