See more of the story

Joe Laha lives in Minneapolis' North Loop area, but he thinks it's great that Car2Go will roll its tiny Smart cars into St. Paul come July 19. Both Laha and his girlfriend belong to the car-sharing service, and her parents live near the Capitol.

"That's going to be really nice," he said Wednesday.

Then again, Laha and his girlfriend also use Hourcar, the local nonprofit that offers a broad range of shared cars priced by the hour.

"There's really not a lot of overlap," Laha said. "Car2Go is point-to-point service, and their fleet really doesn't intersect with what you'd use Hourcar for."

After years of driving under the radar, car sharing in the Twin Cities is enjoying a sudden boom.

Hourcar, which started nine years ago with 13 cars, now offers 72 vehicles at 62 hubs scattered around Minneapolis and St. Paul. Four more hubs will be added soon, program manager Megan Hansen said.

"We're just continuing to grow and getting car sharing to more people and more neighborhoods," she said.

There's Zipcar, which recently launched an operation at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport along with its curbside service in different parts of Minneapolis.

And then there's Car2Go, owned by German-based Daimler, which counts about 10,000 members in Minneapolis and expects to boost that number significantly once it has wheels down in St. Paul. Users now will be able to pick up and leave cars in either city.

"We heard a lot of feedback from our members to expand into St. Paul," said Josh Johnson, Car2Go's location manager in the Twin Cities. "It will allow people to go car-lite, if not car-free."

Laha, 39, who works for an audiovisual company, signed onto Hourcar more than two years ago after his car died.

"We decided to see if we could make a go at not owning a car," he said. "We've never really looked back."

There may be grocery errands to run and goods to haul that require reservation of Hourcar's bigger vehicles, Laha said. On the other hand, Car2Go's larger fleet size makes it convenient for one-way, spur-of-the-moment trips, he said.

Hansen and Johnson agreed that Hourcar and Car2Go are more complementary than competitive. Each service serves a function and it's not unusual to find the same people using both, they said.

"We're just really committed to bringing more transportation options to the Twin Cities, and we're happy to see the car-sharing market flourishing," Hansen said. "Our biggest competition is car ownership. We're here to get people out of their cars."

"We've had a few members tweet that they'd taken a Car2Go to an Hourcar hub and used it to take a longer trip," Johnson said. "We can easily be complementary to each other, and to everything else — light rail, bus, Nice Ride [bicycles] — that's out there."

Car2Go, which has operated in Minneapolis since last year, got the green light to cross the border last month when the St. Paul City Council approved an 18-month agreement for its services. St. Paul will be the 15th city in North America to use Car2Go and the 27th city worldwide.

With its entry into St. Paul, Car2Go is adding 185 cars to its Twin Cities fleet. That makes a total of 535 cars available to fee-paying users at any time of day or night within the two cities.

Members may park at any unrestricted public parking spaces, metered or not, for no charge; gas, insurance and maintenance are included. They pay a one-time fee of $35 and about 46 cents per minute while using the car, with discounted rates for hourly and daily use.

To cover lost parking meter revenue and residential parking permits, St. Paul will receive $975 a year per vehicle from Car2Go. City officials will monitor the service and revisit the contract when it is up for renewal.

Hourcar charges a one-time fee of $50, plus $6 to $8 per hour and 25 cents per mile; there are also rate plans. While you can pick up a Car2Go vehicle wherever you find one parked, Hourcars must be reserved.

Skyler Hessen, a University of Minnesota senior majoring in Asian language and literature, has used Hourcar since last year. It's usually more convenient than taking the bus to visit friends or go shopping, she said, and it typically costs her no more than $40 a month.

"I was worried about how I was going to get around the Minneapolis area," she said. "Now it's a quick trip and I'm done."

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035