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CarSharing Portland began with two cars in March 1998, proving the concept worked in the U.S., before it got absorbed into bigger startup companies.

COURTESY: DAVE BROOK  - Dave Brook, founder of CarSharing Portland, along with his general manager, Russell Martin, standing in front of the original location and offices at Southeast 21st Avenue and Division Street. It later became the Mirador store. Twenty years ago today, the nation's first commercial car-sharing company launched in the United States, here in Portland.

On March 28, 1998, CarSharing Portland opened for business, starting with two cars at an old gas station at Southeast 21st Avenue and Division Street, according to founder Dave Brook. The idea was that a car rental company could park cars around town close to where people need them, available on short notice for short periods of time.

The first known carsharing companies were in Switzerland and Germany in the mid-1980s, according to Brook. In 1986, Reed College psychology professor Dr. Richard Katsev brought Conrad Wagner, a founder of Mobility Carsharing of Switzerland, to the U.S. to promote the concept.

Nina DeConcini of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Francie Royce of the Portland Bureau of Transportation were instrumental in helping the start-up company, Brook says.

COURTESY: DAVE BROOK - The original CarSharing Portland logo. CarSharing Portland quickly grew to 500 members and 25 vehicles parked at locations around downtown Portland and other close-in locations.

In 2001, it merged with sister company Flexcar, founded in 2000 in Seattle. In 2008, Flexcar merged with Zipcar, also founded in 2000, in Boston.

Now Zipcar, Car2Go and ReachNow are well-established in the field here and in many cities across the country.

Experience has shown that car-sharing brings ample environmental benefits and money savings. It enables people to go without buying a car and rely on transit, bicycles or other alternative transportation, using car-sharing services when they need to drive a vehicle.

CarSharing Portland demonstrated that there was a viable market for the business, Brook says.

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