F. Castro /SFVS

Community organization Pacoima Beautiful administers a solar-powered electric car rental program in Pacoima. The service costs per hour and the cars are located in the parking lot of Guardian Angel Catholic Church in the San Fernando Gardens housing project.

Martha Ramirez and her teenage son Levi Flores exited the quiet vehicle pleasantly surprised.

It had been a short promotional ride, around a few streets in the San Fernando Gardens housing complex. But Ramirez was clearly sold on the idea of a solar-powered rental vehicle service in Pacoima.

“I liked it. It was very smooth, and very quiet,” the San Fernando resident said.

“I think it’s a good idea. This way I don’t have to worry about the car maintenance.”

While Ramirez does have her own vehicle, she was searching for a car service for her mom, who doesn’t. The only problem: her mom doesn’t have a smartphone and you need one to use the service.

Pilot Program of Renting Electric Vehicles

The service is called Electro-Share, and is spearheaded by the community group Pacoima Beautiful.  

The pilot program had a soft launch in May — in the middle of the pandemic. But it is now adding a second all-electric vehicle after the first one had been booked pretty much every weekend. Some 20 people have used the car rental service so far.

There are now two Nissan Leafs plugged into a solar-powered station in the parking lot of Guardian Angel Catholic Church, located within the housing complex. It is the only electric program of its kind;  other, similar services in Los Angeles have electric cars plugged into the regular energy grid.

The rental charge is $2 per hour, “which is a lot better than Uber depending on where you go,” said Gabe Carrillo, community organizer for Pacoima Beautiful.

You can rent it for up to four days, Carrillo said. Another advantage is you only have to be age 21 to use the service instead of 25, as most car rental companies require.

You do have to have a driver’s license. Other than that, you don’t have to worry about anything else, as the car is “completely” insured, Carrillo said. “In case of an accident, there’s a hotline and they completely cover it.”

You access the program through a smartphone App, where you reserve a date and time for the rental. Once your reservation is approved, you also get a code to open the car with your phone —that’s it.

When you return the car, simply plug it in again so it’s charged for the next user.

Carrillo said they picked the housing complex as the site because “there’s a lot of people here who tend to take the bus and can easily access the service.”

But there are also people who are not trustworthy, he added.

That was the point of giving short, free rides to anyone who came by on Saturday, Nov. 7 — build trust and spread the word about the program.

Return It Where You Got It

For Ramirez, the only drawback to the service is that you must return the car to the same location. She would prefer taking it for a ride and being able to leave it anywhere.

Still, she said she would give it a try.

“Maybe I can use it to go to a Dodgers game,” she said.

 Emily Petito also praised the idea.

“I liked it for convenience, and it’s cheaper than other transportation. It’s perfect if you only need to go from one place to another, maybe to the grocery store,” Petito said.

She added it’s an especially good idea if it’s raining or it’s the middle of the summer heat.

Petito said the cars may be compacts, but they’re still roomy. “You can park it anywhere,” she said.

She also liked that the cars are environment-friendly.

“Being powered by the sun makes it a lot nicer,” she said.

For more information regarding the rental program, call (818) 899-2454.