Ithaca Carshare will be returning to the city in March 2024 after it suspended operations in May due to insurance issues. This comes after Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) signed a bill on Friday, Sept. 15 that allows nonprofit risk retention groups not based in New York State to provide auto insurance to New York policyholders.
Ithaca Carshare is New York’s only nonprofit carshare service, providing over 1,500 members with nonstop access to 30 different vehicles. While the service was insured through Philadelphia Insurance — one of only two in New York State willing to insure car sharing companies — the insurance company went off the market in May 2023.
In response, Ithaca Carshare found a risk retention group based in Vermont willing to provide the nonprofit with auto-insurance, but as New York State requires RRGs to be domiciled in New York to offer insurance, Ithaca Carshare was unable to purchase this insurance.
A two-year member of Ithaca Carshare, Orion Smedley grad said he likes using Ithaca Carshare as a safety net. He told The Sun he used Carshare up until the day before the organization closed down because it allowed him to perform essential tasks that would otherwise be difficult, such as assisting a friend with moving.
“There was an [Ithaca Carshare] truck down the street, so I just walked down the street and put it into the website, and then swiped my card and checked out a truck and carried his stuff over,” Smedley said. “[I then] dropped the truck back off. That was super convenient — we just used the truck for like an hour or so. Then the next day it was gone.”
Ever since it lost insurance in May, Ithaca Carshare has been losing revenues due to the pause in operations. Liz Field, director of Ithaca Carshare, said the service’s finances were so dire that she was the only active employee, and they had sold several cars to meet operating expenses. The lack of revenue also impacted Ithaca Bikeshare and Bike Walk Tompkins, which Ithaca Carshare is partnered with as part of the Center for Community Transportation.
“We furloughed all [the] staff except for myself,” Field said. “We know [Ithaca Bikeshare and Bike Walk Tompkins] have been kind of hobbling along. But without revenue from Carshare, we’ve really been struggling.”
Because Ithaca Carshare cannot resume operations until March 2024, members must find alternative modes of transportation in the meantime. Smedley said he used Ithaca Bikeshare, but added the GPS on the app wasn’t quite accurate.
“I think I’m planning to get a car now,” Smedley said.
Prior to Hochul signing the Webb/Kelles Ithaca Carshare Bill, State Sen. Lea Webb (D-N.Y.) and Assemblywoman Anna Kelles (D-N.Y.) introduced twin bills, Senate Bill 5959 and Assembly Bill 5718, in March 2023 to allow risk retention groups not based in New York to provide auto-insurance to nonprofit organizations such as Ithaca Carshare, allowing them to continue operations.
Webb explained the urgency behind getting the bill signed into law.
“The challenge with this particular bill is that [because] Carshare had stopped operating at the end of May, the timeframe with regards to getting it signed into law was very time sensitive,” Webb told The Sun.
Webb said she had the community in mind when drafting the bill, as well as the environmental impact of Ithaca Carshare. A 2013 study conducted by Cornell found that for every vehicle operated by Ithaca Carshare, 15.3 vehicles were taken off of the road.
“It helps [community residents] to reduce their carbon footprint because we know that cars are some of our largest pollutants that we have that contribute to carbon gas emissions, so it also helps with getting more cars off the road,” Webb said.
Webb concluded by stating the long term impact of the bill.
“The other cool thing about this bill is that it not only will allow for car sharing in Ithaca, but in other communities such as Albany, Rochester [and] Buffalo,” Webb said. “This program not only helps with getting people access to transportation, it also provides jobs that get people connected so they can go to their appointments or work.”
Despite the setbacks, Ithaca Carshare feels optimistic about returning to the carshare market. During the six months before Ithaca Carshare restarts operations, Field said the nonprofit is working on attracting new members and using a grant from the state to purchase electric vehicles to expand their fleet of cars.
“[Working with] the city and property managers with electric charging infrastructure is another project we want to be working with community partners on and trying to help figure that out. That’s a big issue in Ithaca. And getting more cars out there on the street so that we can better serve the community,” Field said. “I’m hoping that we’ll just keep growing.”