The upside of high gas prices

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High gasoline prices may be pummeling consumers and fleet operators, but they're driving customers to PhillyCarShare, a nonprofit that rents energy-efficient vehicles on an hourly basis in the city.

Nearly 200 customers joined in June, July and August, more than ever before in those months, company co-founder Clayton Lane said. Higher gasoline prices, Lane said, are "really getting people to think about their cost of car ownership more." PhillyCarShare said that, to spur greater use, it was eliminating the $350 deposit it applied to new applicants and refunding deposits to current members.

The service that started in late 2002 with two cars and nine members now has 2,000 members and 40 cars, Lane said. A third of the customers are businesses, the rest personal users.

The City of Philadelphia is among the converts. It signed up with PhillyCarShare about a year ago to handle some fleet needs and save on maintenance and fuel costs. Robert Fox, the city's fleet-management administration director, said a fleet-efficiency effort this year has saved more than $1 million by eliminating 300 city trucks, SUVs and passenger cars. About 100 were replaced through PhillyCarShare.

"Renting hourly for thrifty motoring" by Akweli Parker, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 7, 2005

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