Electric vehicle Carshare program in Kalamazoo and Portage expands the mobility landscape

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KALAMAZOO, MI — For whatever reason, some people don't, or can't, own a car. 

The big reason is the expense. According to AAA, in 2023 it costs $12,182 a year, $1,015 a month, to own and operate a new car. Between 2019 and 2023, the price of new cars jumped 30% and used cars 40.3%.

Plus maintenance, insurance, gas, and simply having a place to put the machine when not using it put a big strain on most families.

But we live in a society built for private motor vehicle ownership. The message is clear, when public transportation is spotty and you live where walking and biking infrastructure are lacking (and if you want to be a productive member of society), you have to own a car. 

A car is one of those huge life expenses, along with childcare, healthcare, and the big one, housing.

Matt Hollander says, "We know that if we can reduce the cost of transportation, then that improves people's ability to afford quality housing or quality childcare or quality healthcare."

His Hollander Development has begun an electric carshare program to help its residents and neighbors with one of those costs. 

At Hollander’s The Creamery in the Edison neighborhood and Spring Manor Apartments in Portage, one can rent a 2020 Chevy Bolt. At $5 an hour, or $50 a day, the cost is a fraction of a regular car rental. 

I needed that Bolt

My editor tossed this story idea at me earlier this year. I filed it under things-to-do. 

Then I realized I needed that Bolt. 

A month ago, Second Wave's publisher, Issues Media Group, invited all its journalists, photographers and staff to a two-day retreat/meeting at a location that's a 60-mile roundtrip for me. 

In May 2023, I sold my car — our second car — and bought an e-bike. My reasons could make for a long-winded essay that's best summarized as this — I mostly work at home, bikes are fun and practical, and cars are an expensive pain.

Maybe for both days I could get to the meeting on the e-bike, travel at 25 mph, and face likely battery death before I got there. Or I could borrow my wife’s SUV that she needs to get to her job.

Or, find another way to prove to myself that this car-light life can work. 

A couple of miles from our home in Edison is this Chevrolet Bolt. I could ride my regular bike there, put it in the back of the hatchback, and do the 60 miles, all without burning a drop of gas or even owning a car.

I was so excited about the smugness I'd feel.

So, I did it. And it worked, mostly. The Bolt was amazing. Aside from the freakish silence and lack of vibration when I started it up, it drove like a gas burner. The bike, with the front wheel removed, fit in the hatchback, just barely.

Writer Mark Wedel at a charging station at the Fetzer Institute's GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers.The car has a range of over 200 miles per charge, lucky for me. Because when I got it back to The Creamery the first night, someone was parked in its charging space. I called the service number to report that I had to leave it in a nearby spot and found that number wasn't yet in service. The following night, I plugged it in, but the charger wouldn't charge.

Pilot program

There have been some glitches, Hollander says. "We're still in the soft launch period."

It's a complex operation, but at the user end, Hollander says, "It's easy to sign up for."

The platform is run by Mobility Development Operations. One needs to download the MDO Carshare app, sign up, and send them a photo of your driver's license. They check your record, and if clean, after about a week you'll be approved. 

Matthew Hollander of Hollander Development Corporation stands near the Carshare Chevrolet Bolt at The Creamery.Through the app, you can reserve the car at The Creamery or its twin at Spring Manor. Cars are also available through Mobility in Ann Arbor, and more are coming soon this spring/summer in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

One doesn't need to meet an income level or be a resident of Hollander's buildings to hop in the Bolt.

"It's for anybody. It's intended for anyone at the community there at The Creamery or anyone in the surrounding neighborhood, or somebody who wants to travel from across town and pick it up. It's really a public system," he says.
A new type of transportation option has always been in the plans for The Creamery, Hollander says. And it was going to be electric.

An outside view of an apartment at The CreameryThe affordable housing complex was built from the ground up to be sustainable. It won a Certified Green Building Award in 2022. Hollander points out that it is the only LEED Platinum Certified multifamily building in southwest Michigan.

When the complex was built, Hollander made sure the electrical infrastructure for the current charging stations was there.

"The Creamery was one of the first buildings in Michigan of its type to be almost entirely electric," he says. "And when we designed The Creamery project, we did it with multimodal transportation in mind." 

There's a Metro bus stop in front of the building, and the bike lane on Portage Road will get one to downtown or the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, he says.

Part of The Creamery is a 24-hour daycare center run by the YWCA."And then we have some parking for regular vehicles for people who want to drive regular vehicles. So we're trying to offer convenient options at all levels. And right now, I think that's the best we can do in our little sphere of influence," Hollander says.

"We don't have control over the broader EV charging infrastructure or the availability of electric vehicles or the affordability of new electric vehicles or non-motorized transportation, safety infrastructure, and things like that. So we're just trying to do the best we can in our little corner."

Going Forth

The Bolt is at The Creamery because of Forth, a 501(c)(3) in Portland, Ore. Their mission is "to electrify transportation by bringing people together to create solutions that reduce pollution and barriers to access," their site says.

Forth Program Manager Connor Herman sums up Forth as, "We do work around the U.S. to electrify everything that moves," from electric cars to electric agricultural equipment

"Typically, we do a lot of pilot projects to advance electrification. This carshare is a great example," Herman says.

They began testing a carshare program in smaller towns in Oregon and Washington. Fourth built on what they learned, and with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, launched their Affordable Mobility Platform

AMP is in the works or operational in cities in North Carolina, Missouri, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Michigan. In this state, they partnered with the Michigan Clean Cities Coalition

Since the focus is on keeping costs low for the users, this is more of a proposed public transportation model than regular car rental, Herman says.

"The market isn't necessarily doing this, so we try to test out hard models and see what works, what doesn't work, and develop the partnerships and coalitions to get the data we need to make these things more practical or just be able to happen in the first place," Herman says.

Forth is focused on doing "projects in low-income communities, underserved communities, and working with these types of groups because we think there are a lot of technology benefits from EVs and infrastructure and bikes and all of these things — but a lot of times, the early adopters and the first people to benefit from these aren't those populations."

To state the obvious, the average cost of an electric car, plus the needed home or apartment infrastructure to plug it in, is a barrier for those who now struggle to afford an old gas burner.

"We try to design our programs to make them accessible to everyone, and be very intentional about that."


Forth's carshare effort is "in a bit of a gray area, transitioning from pilot to sustainable program," he says.

There've been some lessons learned.

On the Ground Writer Mark Wedel listens closely to the Bolt's quiet engine.The $5 an hour and $50 a day to drive the Bolt don't cover costs. There's a reason "why the for-profit carshare operators that are out there are predominantly operating in affluent areas or college campuses or business campuses, places where people have that ability to, you know, spend the money how they want, and have that freedom," he says.

"It's a hard business model."

Like buses, a carshare should be considered a part of the public transportation system and receive public funding, he says.

"I make the comparison often to transit," Herman says. "For instance, usually 15% to 25% of transit is covered by actually buying tickets... and the rest is usually public-subsidized."

So far, the needed funding for the carshare is coming from the U.S. DOE and other sources. A project this complex needs a lot of helpers, from funding sources to someone on the ground making sure the car is running.

"For the project to get launched in Kalamazoo, we, applied for a grant to the Federal Department of Energy. We got that funding," Herman says.

"We needed to identify our local partners in Michigan, which then, in turn, helped us identify the specific sites which then we had to establish, like site agreements with someone like Hollander Development and The Creamery, to actually put a vehicle there."

There's "another contractor who actually provides the software and the backend services. And then we have the charging company, charging station--that's a different company. And then the contractors who get that installed."

To get that Bolt ready, "there's probably been ten companies or organizations to get it to this point."

To keep the charging station and the car functioning, they need "someone on the ground."

"So it's a lot of layers, and the more people and organizations and companies and software that you have, definitely all adds to that complexity to make it all happen and be as seamless as possible for the end user."

Why Kalamazoo?

Forth wanted Michigan to be among the states for the pilot expansion. "We have several other programs that we have operated in Michigan because it's the auto industry."

But where in Michigan? They considered "transit availability, biking availability, demographics, single car ownership, all of that stuff," when looking at test cities like Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Grand Rapids.

Hollander Development, with its focus on affordable housing that's also keeping green and electric, made Kalamazoo and Portage obvious locations.

"Having just an entity like Hollander Development in Michigan that was willing to partner with us and go on this journey, was honestly the biggest thing," Herman says. "They just made it really easy that it was almost a no-brainer."

For Hollander, hosting the Bolt was a no-brainer. The greenness of the project is important to him, but he's also been hoping to give Creamery residents a cheaper option to owning a car.

A huge percentage of a family's income can go into housing — "Al Jones (reporting on Second Wave's housing series A Way Home) and I had a really long conversation about this."  

Transportation belongs in the frame of housing affordability, Hollander says.

"As developers, we are now viewing transportation, childcare, and healthcare as part of a system of things that need to be looked at as an intersection, rather than viewing affordable housing as its own independent, discrete part of what needs to be done to help the low-income households across the United States who are struggling right now — and also the higher-income households who are struggling and can't afford to meet their basic needs."

The Creamery has "a mixture of both affordable and what we call workforce housing within the building," he says.

The Creamery is trying to alleviate residents' financial strains where it can. Healthcare is a tough one  — you're "on your own with that one," Hollander says. To take care of the costs of childcare, the building houses The Creamery, with childcare available 24/7. 

Life is messy, jobs can be first or third shift, and children might need a sitter. That messiness can be expensive. And sometimes one just needs an affordable ride.

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Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.