Switzerland gave us great chocolates, cheeses, a famous pocket knife, and most recently, the concept behind HOURCAR. Those Swiss were really on to something.

HOURCAR is a new car-sharing service that allows drivers in the Twin Cities to use vehicles by the hour. It has been operating in Europe since the late 1980s, and was launched here in the Twin Cities in June of 2005.

“Now there are car–sharing operators all across the United States and Canada,” says Mary Morse, executive director of the Neighborhood Energy Consortium, the nonprofit group that runs HOURCAR.

The intent of the program is to eliminate the number of cars on the roads (fewer cars mean less traffic, less parking congestion and less pollution) by encouraging car–sharing, while providing convenient and affordable access to cars.

“HOURCAR is a really smart way for people to make occasional car trips without the related expense and environmental damage of frequent car use,” Morse says. “We expect that more and more people in the Twin Cities will turn to HOURCAR when they want to downsize from two cars to one, or if they want to avoid buying a car in the first place. HOURCAR just makes a lot of sense.”

Any driver who has had a license for at least five years—along with a safe driving record— is a candidate for HOURCAR. The application fee is $50, which includes $25 in free driving. There is no annual fee. Members can choose from four different membership plans that give them the most control over their driving costs.

“For instance, a frequent driver might choose the Value Plan, which costs $20 per month, and only $4.95 per hour and .39 per mile for driving time,” Morse explains. “On the other hand, someone who needs a car for a few regular trips each month might consider an HOURCAR Smart Package—which is similar to a cell phone plan in that hours and miles are bundled into fixed monthly packages. Smart Packages are really amazing, and some of our members are driving a new Toyota Prius for just $38 per month.”

Currently there are 12 cars in the fleet, with another on the way. All of the vehicles are the Toyota Prius hybrid, the “most impressive five-passenger car on the market from an environmental standpoint,” Morse says. The gas-electric Prius has incredibly low particulate and greenhouse gas emissions compared to other new cars, and averages about 50 miles per gallon.

The HOURCAR program has been steadily growing in popularity, with close to 200 people taking advantage of the service. Members range in age from 22 to 80 and live in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and suburbs such as Woodbury, Richfield, New Brighton and Edina. It’s a great tool for people who rely on public transportation but might need a car for weekend trips around town, families wanting one car (but occasionally needing two), and corporations and government employees who realize it’s easier—and less expensive—to simply let HOURCAR manage their fleets.

Those who use HOURCAR say they love driving the Prius (celebrities Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio drive one), they’re really happy with the convenience of HOURCAR’S online reservation system, and they appreciate the friendly customer service and easily accessible hub locations.

Not only does HOURCAR serve a need for those who drive sparingly, the service is part of the overall pollution solution by improving air quality and conserving resources.

According to Morse, “It’s really great to hear that our members and the public appreciate that HOURCAR is part of a local nonprofit that has an environmental mission. There’s a lot of pride in that.”

For more information, visit or call 651-221-4462.