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Buffalo CarShare may need Albany’s help to survive

Buffalo CarShare may need a jumpstart from Albany to survive.

The local not-for-profit’s insurance runs out June 15, and Philadelphia Insurance – the only insurer in New York State that provides protection for independently operated car share organizations – has told the car-sharing company it won’t renew.

That means the group’s best – and possibly last – option is state legislation that would formally recognize car sharing and open the insurance market to other insurers.

“We’re working as hard as we can to stay alive,” said Michael Galligano, Buffalo CarShare’s executive director.

He plans to travel to Albany on Monday to push lawmakers to support bills in the State Senate and Assembly.

The service allows people without cars to use one of the fleet’s 19 vehicles on an hourly basis through a monthly membership fee and hourly rate. A majority of the more than 900 paying users – thousands of passengers also benefit from the service – earn under $25,000 a year.

Car sharing is different from ride sharing, which is an alternative to conventional taxi cabs.

“Thousands of people and thousands of trips will not be able to be taken to critical destinations if we can’t continue,” Galligano said. “When someone says they use it to pick up their grandmother to take her to a doctor’s appointment, and that’s the way she gets there, that’s not only affecting our member who also uses it to go grocery shopping, but her family, too.”

Conversations have “accelerated” with for-profit companies interested in acquiring CarShare to enter the Buffalo market, Galligano said. That would become an option only if maintaining CarShare as it is now isn’t possible.

For-profit companies typically differ in terms of who they market to, acceptable payment and overall service.

Losing Buffalo CarShare would be a hardship for retired Vietnam veteran Gary Mentley. He used to owned a car, but can no longer afford one on his limited budget. Using Buffalo CarShare, Mentley sees his 98-year-old mother in East Aurora twice a month and takes her grocery shopping.

“It’s really going to mess me up. I don’t know what I am going to do,” Mentley said of the prospect of Buffalo CarShare shutting down.

Jayne Rand, a car owner, takes CarShare when her teenage daughter needs to use the family car.

“There are the financial savings and the ecological benefits, but for me the benefit of connecting my life and schedule with that of my daughter has proven to be a true positive in our family life,” Rand said.

Galligano said a bill in the State Senate, which Sen. Marc Panepinto has co-sponsored, would lead to two major car-sharing companies coming into New York State, bringing insurers who have told Buffalo CarShare they would insure them, he said.

There is a similar bill in the Assembly, supported by Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Buffalo CarShare appealed to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to consider extending its self insurance to cover the company, but the NFTA deemed it unfeasible.

“Based on how we are self-insured, it is not a financially viable option for the NFTA,” spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said.

Losing Buffalo CarShare, Hartmayer said, would “be a loss to the community.”

CarShare is considered a “gap service” for the transit system, locating near transit stations so riders can use the cars to take them places where the rail or bus systems don’t go, or offering members the option during the day of switching to a car if their job demands it.

Regardless of what happens, Buffalo CarShare will exist after June 15 even if service is curtailed.

“If the law doesn’t pass, we’ll still have a month or two to find a solution. But we’re a small, ittybitty nonprofit that has few resources to maintain an organization without our solid revenue stream coming in from our cars,” Galligano said.

Both bills have the support of for-profit companies – which, unlike CarShare, have lobbyists pressing lawmakers – that are particularly trying to set up shop in New York City.