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CarShare loses insurance, may have to close next month

Buffalo CarShare has been popular for people in need of an occasional car for local trips.

But the growing company, with a fleet of 19 vehicles used to promote both affordable and environmentally friendly transportation, may be forced to shut down next month.

Philadelphia Insurance has informed CarShare it will not renew its coverage, and the difficulty of finding another insurer, a CarShare spokeswoman said, has been compounded by New York’s no-fault insurance law that she said discourages insurers from covering car-sharing companies.

“If we don’t find a solution by June 15, we will be forced to cease car-sharing operations,” said Jennifer White, CarShare’s director of communications. “Thousands of people in Buffalo will be affected, and an organization that proves such a huge benefit to the community will no longer exist.”

Philadelphia Insurance also covers the other two independently operated car share organizations in New York State, in Ithaca and Albany. White said expensive medical costs that resulted after a CarShare vehicle was hit last year by a car that ran a red light factored in the insurance company’s decision to cancel coverage.

Michael Galligano, executive director of Buffalo CarShare, said there are a few possibilities that could keep the company going, but the time crunch is daunting.

“We’re looking at an insurance carrier who could come in to help us, but that seems bleak. In that case, we need some help from the community, through legislation or somebody bigger that is self-insured to absorb us,” Galligano said.

Meetings with several entities, including the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, are planned.

More than 800 people use Buffalo CarShare, but that number only scratches the surface of the number of people benefiting, since there are frequently one or more riders, Galligano said. More than half the subscribers – 55 percent – make $25,000 or less. Users include millennials, the elderly, the disabled, people of middle income and students, who pay a monthly membership fee plus an hourly rate to supplement an otherwise nondriving lifestyle.

Buffalo CarShare also has teamed up with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to help reduce parking and congestion there, and to promote alternative forms of transportation. The campus even has pickup locations on site.

“We are the only car-sharing organization that focuses on low-income folks,” Galligano said. “We have people in L.A. trying to replicate what we do, and New York State has funded us to the cost of about $300,000 to just go into cities in New York to show them how to do what we are doing in Buffalo.”

Cathy Wallace, a Buffalo CarShare member, said, “It has made a world of difference, allowing me to be a normal and productive member of society. It is very hard for me to imagine what my life would be like if Buffalo CarShare wasn’t an option.”

Galligano added, “There is a lot of good that we do. We have a big social impact.”