What Is Evie Carshare and Is It a Good Option for the Twin Cities?

The Twin Cities is a great place to live if you have a car. If you can’t afford a car or don’t drive for personal reasons, you may lose access to vital resources.

Minneapolis-St. Paul has a growing network of light rail, bus rapid transit and regular bus lines that give people without cars a platform to support their transportation needs. But transit does not provide equal opportunities in all areas. For example, transit does not function as well in lower-density suburban areas. In general, people tend not to use buses or light rail if they have to walk more than a half mile, according to the Federal Highway Administration. So, if housing and activity centers are spread out, as they are in the suburbs, bus lines cannot create sufficient coverage.

The Twin Cities have collaborated to respond to an insufficient transit system, as well as a lack of car ownership among low-income people, with a novel public transit idea. Evie is a car-sharing service that uses electric vehicles and is municipally owned. You may not think of car-sharing as a form of public transit, but it serves a public purpose:

  • Increasing connection to places where traditional transit does not work.
  • Promoting sustainability by reducing the number of cars on streets.
  • Giving people in low-income communities better access to cars on an as-needed basis.

Evie is an experiment still in progress. Its challenge is to find its roots in a private vehicle-focused society.

What Is Evie Carshare?

The Evie program launched in February 2022 and is operated by HOURCAR. The program consists of four main parts: the home area, the vehicles, the charging spots and the mobile app. When signing up, it takes a couple of days to have your information processed. Evie needs to make sure you have a valid driver’s license.

The home area is a 35-square-mile zone where Evie cars start and end their trips. You can take cars anywhere outside of the home area, to see friends or run errands. To end the trip, you must return it to the home area. The home area borders are different than Minneapolis and St. Paul city borders because of Evie’s goal to expand car access equitably.

Half of the home area covers lower-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with high demographic diversity. Image courtesy of Evie Carshare.

The Vehicles. The fleet has 120 Chevy Bolts in service out of a planned 170. Each vehicle has a 250-mile range. You may pause a trip anywhere. A trip may end anywhere within the home area at a legal on-street parking space. The only exception is that a car cannot end at a metered space with less than a two-hour time limit.

Here, an Evie car is parked at a city meter with a time limit greater than two hours. Photo by the author.

The charging spots are spread throughout the home area.

Blue circles are a draft map of the planned charging spot locations, from Feb. 1, 2022. Green dots are overlaid to show currently available spots on the Evie app in November. Around half of the planned 70 charging spots are built out. Image courtesy of Evie Carshare.

Each charging spot has four outlets. Two are reserved for Evie vehicles and two are available for anyone who wants to charge an electric vehicle.

A private vehicle and an Evie are both making use of Evie charging stations. Photo by the author.

The Evie Carshare app (Android, iOS) is the best way to locate vehicles. It has a live map similar to ride-hailing apps. You can unlock vehicles, pause trips for a “stopover,” and end trips using either the app or by tapping a registered GoTo card — commonly used for rides on Metro Transit buses or trains — to the Evie reader. If you make a stopover at a paid parking spot outside of the home area, paying for parking is your responsibility.

This is a screenshot from the Evie Carshare Google Play Store page. You can register with Evie using a computer and a GoTo card if you do not have access to a phone.

What are the costs? Trips are billed at different rates based on membership options (individual, student, business or Access PLUS) as well as different rates based on duration (minute, hour or day).

Evie covers the cost of parking within the home area, charging at designated stations, vehicle insurance and maintenance. Users also should be aware of what Evie calls “totally avoidable fees” for a damaged vehicle, excessive cleaning of a vehicle, or a vehicle that has to be towed. You can earn drive credit for ending a trip at an Evie charging spot and also if you move an improperly parked vehicle, such as one in a tow zone.

Data on Evie so far

During Evie’s first six months of use, it had 1,456 unique users or close to 12 users per car, according to the Evie six-month report released in late September. Evie vehicles averaged one trip per day during the first three months and 1.7 trips per day during the second three months. These numbers may seem low, but according to Frank Douma, a researcher at the Center for Transportation Studies, “[Evie cars] are not necessarily sitting around any more than a private vehicle would, at zero to two daily trips.”

Red spots depict locations where many people are starting Evie trips. The University of Minnesota and Macalester-Groveland are examples of these hotspots, according to the six-month report. Image courtesy of Evie Carshare.

Locating charging spots in mixed-use neighborhoods that have housing, stores, schools, and more benefits the concept of car-sharing. When people have reasons to come and go from an area, a feedback loop emerges: More shoppers create more demand for shops, which create more demand for shoppers. Similarly, Evie will reap benefits by locating spots near a mixed-use area with high foot traffic and strong transit connections.

Will Schroeer, Evie system designer and HOURCAR board member, calls it the network effect. “If you look at Mac-Groveland, there are students here, there are a bunch of stores along Grand Avenue. It’s the perfect density. There’s a lot of transit. It’s sort of the perfect location,” he says.

“It’s a little like a fax machine. When you have one machine it’s no good, but when there are 200 fax machines, then you can communicate with a lot of people. We wanted a breadth of hub distribution across the service area.”

Evie contributes toward its equity goal by providing a discounted membership plan, called Access PLUS, to those earning less than 50% of the area median income.

Over the first six months, usage by Access PLUS members grew and accounted for 33% of total Evie usage. Image courtesy of Evie Carshare.

Vehicle Distribution

The “free-floating” nature of the Evie network provides flexibility for users, but it can be inconvenient, too. To use the service, you check an app to confirm a car is near you and then reserve it. But what if no car is near you? In that way, Evie can be less reliable than traditional transit.

Evie is experiencing what Schroeer calls “growing pains” with supply, demand and distribution. “We want people to know that it’s a reliable option for them and we just have to build a fleet that’s large enough to support everyone,” Schroeer says. He hopes that increasing the number of vehicles will help remedy these issues.

Vehicle drift is an interesting phenomenon that emerged from the six-month report. You do not need to return Evie cars to where you got them. Where they end up is based on destination demand. Over the first three months, four vehicles per week drifted from St. Paul to Minneapolis. Over the second three months, nine vehicles per week drifted. This required HOURCAR to manually redistribute vehicles.

“Minneapolis has a bigger economic gravitational pull. Once a car ends up in Minneapolis it’s probably more likely to stay there because of more people going back and forth in Minneapolis,” Schroeer says.

Douma proposes the use of incentives to encourage users to end trips in St. Paul. Currently, if you return a vehicle to a charging spot you get drive credit.

Russ Stark is the chief resilience officer and a former City Council president for the City of Saint Paul. He helped shape Evie and manages the city’s climate action plan. He compares vehicle distribution throughout the home area to a chicken-and-egg scenario. If an area lacks vehicles, it is difficult for users to start trips. But if relatively few users reside in an area, fewer trips will end there. “We think that increased engagement and outreach will help to solve that problem. It will also reduce the labor for HOURCAR to have to keep moving the cars around because users will naturally do that,” Stark says.

Transportation Equity

People with cars have more freedom of movement than those who do not. A program like Evie has the potential to expand mobility and save time and money for people who could otherwise not afford a car.

The Evie home area covers a number of areas with concentrated poverty in the Twin Cities. An Evie home area expansion could benefit Minneapolis’ northwest inner ring suburbs, eastern St Paul and the Fort Snelling area.

“Car ownership is very expensive and not everybody can own cars. In some neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul, car ownership can be as low as 50 or 60 percent. In suburban areas, the rate is more like 90 percent,” says Yingling Fan, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center of Transportation Studies.

Unfortunately, Twin Cities public transit is often slow and unreliable, and that problem will only increase with the Metro Transit service cuts rolled out on December 3. “Cars are the only reliable way that you can go from anywhere to anywhere, at any time,” Douma says. “In dense European cities, you can do that with transit, but in places like the Twin Cities, the bus may only show up once an hour during off-peak times.”

Some people need cars. If you live in the suburbs, transit infrastructure is lacking. If you often transport large items or are a caregiver for a child or an elderly parent, you may need ready access to a car. But, many people use cars based on habit and convenience. In a core area, you can walk, bike, and use traditional transit for most trips. For the few trips that do require a car, Schroeer proposes the use of a shared Evie vehicle. He calls it car-light. “There’s a need in between being completely car-free and owning your own car,” Schroeer says.

The strategic placement of urban highways has decimated and disadvantaged neighborhoods of color. Electric car sharing, says Stark, can increase transportation access for those who are systemically disadvantaged.

“We are focusing on opportunities to provide benefits to some of our most vulnerable populations in St. Paul, including low-income residents, residents of color, folks who live in neighborhoods along freeways and who are therefore exposed to more air pollution, and folks who live in areas that experience more urban heat island effects who are therefore going to experience the impacts of climate change quicker than other neighborhoods,” Stark says.

Engagement with potential users was critical in shaping the project, he says, including “a price point that seemed reasonable and that people could afford.”

Photo courtesy of Evie Carshare.

Is Evie a Good Option for the Twin Cities?

Electric car sharing reduces the need for car ownership and parking spaces. In theory, says Fan, fewer cars on the streets means there is less need for public parking spaces and, for individuals, fewer car-related expenses.

“The cost to society will certainly be lower when compared to the business-as-usual situation where we are dependent on private cars,” Fan explains, which involve the expense not just of purchasing the car and filling it with gas but also maintenance, repairs and parking.

The Twin Cities has spatial gaps in its transit service and social gaps in transportation equity. Car-sharing can connect people without cars to suburban areas, including their amenities and their jobs. In the city, Evie can combine with multimodal options such as walking and busing to cover different niches and needs. “There is a potential, in theory, for this service to fit into a menu of transportation options so people can move as freely as they want to,” Douma says.

Car-sharing is not a one-size-fits-all solution, Fan says. “Car-sharing is not going to be the silver bullet. Despite how wonderful it seems, it’s often still someone driving alone. Car-sharing does not necessarily mean carpooling. This is a very important difference.”

Recommendations

  • Evie should continue to expand its fleet size to reduce the chance of cars being absent when and where users need them.
  • HOURCAR should examine the best way to encourage vehicle placement that increases access and understanding. Stark and Douma see autonomous vehicles as a future possibility to reduce manual labor because the cars could drive themselves to where they are needed most.
  • Evie should improve access to people with disabilities. People in wheelchairs cannot operate Evie’s Chevy Bolt cars. Autonomous vehicles may also help with this.
Jasper Green

About Jasper Green

Jasper is a student at the University of Minnesota studying Urban Studies. He is from St Paul and is passionate about transit, land use, real estate, and sustainability.

11 thoughts on “What Is Evie Carshare and Is It a Good Option for the Twin Cities?

  1. LISA CLASEN

    I am an Hourcar member and occasionally use Evie. I live and work downtown St. Paul and have no need to own a car (and pay $150+ / month for parking). In DT StP there are few Evies available, though I check the app and use it when I can for short jaunts. I use Hourcar for planned trips. There is an Hourcar parked across the street from me which makes it super convenient when it is available. There are more users lately, so I do have to plan far ahead if I want weekend time. The best part is I use it to pick up a friend that also does not own a car and we get our shopping done and have a “girls day”, so in a way we use it to carpool. I would definitely use Evie more if it was available DT StP more. One note about the article…”Minneapolis-St. Paul has a growing network” does not appear to be a true statement based on recent route cuts. The cuts are mentioned later in the article.

  2. Melissa Wenzel

    I’m in a population-light part of Saint Paul, so I understand why there’s not an Evie (or Hour Car) spot near me. That said, I haven’t felt incentivized to bike 4.5 miles (at a minimum) to get a car. I would if need be. I’d bike or walk up to 1.5 miles to get access, or if it were at a popular location like a rec center.

  3. Nathan Bakken

    I live in the North Loop, and use the LRT and buses a lot. But for trips that don’t work well on transit I use Evie! It’s a lot like when we used to have car2go!

  4. Jasper GreenJasper Green

    Correction to post: The current Evie fleet of around 120 vehicles is made up of 100 Chevy Bolts and 20 Nissan Leafs. 50 more Nissan Leafs will be added to the fleet to bring the total fleet size to 170. (Information from Russ Stark, a chief resilience officer for St Paul who helped shape Evie as a part of the City’s climate action plan.)

  5. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

    I’ve used it once. I’m glad Melissa Wenzel, above, pointed out bike access. Me too. I find I have to bike to a place to secure an Evie. I found that they’re scarce in the afternoon, esp. on a Saturday. Everybody is running errands, I suppose. I had to take an Evie outside the Metro area, where there was no bus access, and where cycling is prohibitively long.
    I am generally in favor of any endeavor that gets people to ditch their cars. As Lisa says, she is saving a lot of money by not parking downtown. Or fueling up. Or…
    If I could just holler at Frank Douma a moment, I’d point out that cars aren’t “the only reliable way to go from anywhere to anywhere.” That sounds like someone who’s never tried to use a bike to get around. C’mon, Frank, you know better. Maybe his point is that our bike infrastructure isn’t attractive enough for the fence-sitters. So let’s all get behind the City’s Summit Avenue Master Plan, and get those protected, plowable bike lanes built, chop-chop!

  6. Andrew Osman

    Great read Jasper! I am a big advocate for public transit and live car-free but people living in Minneapolis and St. Paul face very real public transit service gaps due to staffing issues and low density (in certain neighborhoods). I live in Uptown and while I can get around to most places in Minneapolis or St. Paul by bike or transit, Evie provides a great way to expand your reach without the costs/externalities of car ownership. The growth of ridership in the first six months is encouraging and I look forward to seeing more recent numbers, as well as the addition of more vehicles.

  7. Sheldon Gitis

    Rather than scattering the car-share vehicles over an area 35 miles wide, and then having to get them moved to charging stations after they’ve been parked, wouldn’t it make more sense have the car-share home-based in large apartment building garages equipped with charging stations, where abundant vehicles are already coming and going all the time? If one were looking for a place to put the car-share vehicles, it would seem the big box apartment building garages would be the no-brainer place to start.

    Wouldn’t a large apartment building stacked on top of a garage filled with electric car-share vehicles make a lot more sense than all the very large apartment buildings stacked on top of garages filled with private vehicles? How about car-share-only parking beneath every new and recently built big box apartment building?

    Why shouldn’t every new apartment building, with say 50 or more units, be required to have a garage filled with electric car-share vehicles? The cost of vehicle ownership and operation, including the parking fees everyone with a spot in an apartment building garage pays, is probably close to $10,000/year, if not more. How many car-share vehicles and charging stations could an apartment building management company provide for $10,000/tenant/year? Imagine how much more rent a property management company could get for an apartment with access to a garage full of continuously arriving and departing Chevy Bolts, Nissan Leafs or some other practical and popular electric car-share vehicle? Just as many apartment buildings have ample shared laundry facilities, fitness rooms, and internet connectivity, why couldn’t many, if not most, have ample car-share vehicles?

    Before parking the vehicles in on-street spots scattered across an area 35 miles wide, maybe Russ Stark and Frank Douma should be doing more to locate the Evie vehicles in big box apartment building garages, where they would be used more frequently and efficiently, and be less costly to maintain and operate.

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        Thanks Will for the link to the corporate messaging from Xcel, HourCar, American Lung Association, Nissan etc.

        “the pilot will add a total of 50 all-electric vehicles, more than doubling our two-way fleet. To do this, HOURCAR is placing new hubs with EV chargers at multifamily complexes around the Twin Cities metropolitan area, especially at affordable housing sites.”
        https://hourcar.org/multifamily/

        I agree, shared vehicles need not be an “either or” proposition. However, if the goal is to reduce the number of vehicles and vehicle miles driven, in any location anywhere, scattering 50 or 100 car-share vehicles around the 35-mile wide Twin Cities metro area is not the way to go. In an area 35 miles wide, with a million or more privately-owned, non-commercial vehicles, making who knows how many trips and traveling who knows how many miles each day, and with a fleet of just 50 or 100 car-share vehicles, “around the Twin Cities metropolitan area” is not the place to put “the pilot”.

        If one were looking to make a meaningful impact, wouldn’t it make more sense to stick the 50 vehicles in one “hub” rather than scattering the 50 vehicles “around the Twin Cities metropolitan area” in some diluted concentration of who knows how many “hubs”? Rather than scattering the 50 vehicles “around the Twin Cities metropolitan area”, why didn’t HourCar stick the 50 vehicles in 1 or 2 of the many big box apartment buildings that already provide garage parking for 50 or more private vehicles? Is there no big box apartment building owner/manager who would want their building garage filled with shiny new, publicly-subsidized, Chevy Bolts/Nissan Leafs?

        With who knows how many 1000s of ready-built spaces, ideally-suited for the compact, electric vehicles, HourCar is putting a total of 50 vehicles in locations scattered all over the Twin Cities metro area. What a joke. The placement of a one or 2 vehicles here and there, from Brooklyn Park to Maplewood, is money spent on marketing and public relations, not transportation.

        With who knows how many 1000s of ready-built indoor parking spaces, rather than sticking the 50 vehicles in a single location, where the 50 vehicles might have some impact, HourCar and its corporate partners have decided to spend their corporate welfare on advertising.
        https://hourcar.org/multifamily/

  8. Lou

    Thanks for an informative article, Jasper.

    I wonder if the cars are frequently (or ever) used for commuting (being reserved all day), or are typically used for errands & visiting people.

    The biggest problem seems to be the same fundamental problem we have whenever we talk about cars in any context: the space they take up, and location/availability.

    If they’re mostly used for mid-day, evening, & weekend trips, does it make sense to consider an Uber-like model, where cars are privately owned, but just leased out when the owner isn’t using them (which is 90% of the day for most cars). The owner wouldn’t drive the car for the Evie renter, of course, just make it available. But, like Uber, the cars are people’s ordinary cars they let people use when they’re not using them, and they might make a small sum of money for renting them out. Then the potential for thousands of cars in every neighborhood—including suburbs—exists.

    I’m guessing this idea isn’t original and has been discarded for logistical or other reasons, but I thought I’d bring it up just in case.

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