For students, faculty and others around UCSB who don’t use cars, the campus this year will be a little less of a desert island.

In an effort to promote environmentally friendly transportation, the university has launched a car-share program in which students, staff or anyone in the area can rent a Hybrid Honda Civic by the hour.

The so-named Flexcar program isn’t cheap — it’s $5.50 an hour, or $60 for an entire day — and it requires an annual membership. But it might come in handy for someone who needs to zoom over to Santa Barbara for a midday dental appointment or trip to the grocery store.

“We have over 130 people that ride van pools to campus,” said James Wagner, a manager in UCSB’s transportation alternatives program. “Many are from Ventura, Thousand Oaks or Santa Maria, and they don’t have a vehicle at all. This could be a real boon to them.”

UCSB’s pilot program has city leaders watching closely. Mayor Marty Blum said she and other council members have long been interested in adopting a car share program for people who work downtown but don’t drive.

 “City employees (who do not drive to work) have the benefit of being able to use a city car, but not all downtown employees can do that,” she said.

About a year ago, Blum said she met with a car-share company, but its representative wanted to put 50 vehicles downtown, which she said is far too many.

“I was hoping to start out with five or six,” she said. The city may be able to look to UCSB’s model as a guide: the program is starting out with just two cars.

To participate in UCSB’s program, users must sign up to be members with Flexcar either online ( ) or by going into UCSB’s office of the Transportation Alternatives Program. (It is located off Stadium Road, in Building 388, near Parking Lot 30.)

Members will receive in the mail a plastic card — or “Flexcard.” The card is the “key.” Once a person receives it, he or she can sign up to make reservations online or over the phone. To get into the car, the user must swipe the card onto the windshield reader. Once inside, the driver will see that the real key is in the ignition. (If a miscreant breaks into the car, the key won’t work.)

Annual membership costs $35, but the first year will be free for anyone who joins by Nov. 28.  (Click here  for more info.) 


* A person cannot use the Flexcar unless they have made an appointment. If she has not made one, her plastic card, when held up to the windshield reader, will receive no response.

* Gas is free, and there is an incentive to fill up. Every car comes with a credit card that can only be used to purchase gas. Those who do this will receive a $2 credit. (Those who leave the tank beneath a quarter-full are charged $25.)

* Due to a process in which the energy of the brakes is harnessed to generate battery power, the Hybrid Honda Civic gets about 40 miles to the gallon, regardless of whether it is in town or on the freeway.

For more information, contact the UCSB Transportation Alternatives Program. (805) 893-5475.

The UCSB plan is open to more than just students and faculty. Users also could be residents of Isla Vista, employees of nearby shops and restaurants or parents of students. They could even be homeless.

“If the homeless person had a credit card, and a mailing address — and if they were well connected, they might have one — it would be an extreme case, but definitely permissible,” Wagner said.

One of the two available cars is stationed in Lot 14, near Campbell Hall. The other is in Lot 1, near the biology buildings off Lagoon Road. (Click here  for map of UCSB.)

The concept of car-sharing isn’t new. It originated decades ago in Europe, but took hold in the United States in the 1990s. Now, programs exist in cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.

One challenge of adopting the practice in Santa Barbara is the city’s small size. Mayor Blum said that, to the best of her knowledge, the car-share programs around the United States are located in major metropolitan areas much larger than Santa Barbara.

Another challenge is the cost. The UCSB rate of $5.50 an hour sounds expensive, but it should cost even more. That’s because the program is subsidized by the university. In nearby Los Angeles, for example, members pay $10 an hour, Wagner said.

Although the UCSB rate might be a good deal in comparison to other plans, for the campus faculty it actually represents a major price hike. That’s because, as an experiment, Flexcar for the past two years has been offered to them for free.

So for employees like John Berberet, a UCSB marriage-family therapist whose clients work at the university, the new plan represents a new cost. Still, Berberet, who leaves his own Civic in the garage and bicycles three-and-half miles into campus for the exercise, said he might use the service from time to time.

For instance, sometimes he needs to travel into Santa Barbara with a group of colleagues for a professional luncheon.

“We’d probably be gone for two hours,” he said. “If everybody pitched in a couple bucks, it would be no big deal. It would be a lot more comfortable than the bus.”