The Kootenay Carshare Co-op has had six vehicles stolen in the past five months.
The co-op had been operating for 22 years with no stolen vehicles, says executive director Colleen Matte, and this spate of thefts has come as a shock.
“It’s like robbing from a thrift store,” she said. “We are a community service. We are trying to serve people that need help, and this hits hard.”
One of the vehicles, a white Ford F-100 pickup, has recently been found by the RCMP in Creston after already having been stolen and recovered in May. This time around it had been spray painted and Matte says it may no longer be in any condition to be used by the co-op.
A 2003 Malibu, also parked downtown, has been stolen twice and each time recovered.
Each of the co-op’s cars has a specified parking location — some in downtown parking lots, and some on the street or alley at the home of a member. Members book the car online from that location and return it there.
The fifth theft — a Honda Fit whose designated parking spot is in Fairview — was recovered by police after co-op employees spotted it parked beside the highway between Cranbrook and Creston. They found people sleeping inside and called the police.
In each of these cases, a lock box — a metal box with a punch code that hangs on the outside of the driver’s door window and contains the key — was smashed to gain access.
Matte said the co-op is looking at other options for key access, but the systems used in more advanced car sharing organizations in bigger cities tend to involve expensive electronics that allow the car to know the identity of the driver before the door can be unlocked.
The sixth theft was a little different. The thief had taken advantage of the casual driver program, in which non-members can sign up, after supplying their driver’s licence number and credit card, for one-time use of a co-op car. In this case the driver had taken the car and simply not returned it.
Matte said the co-op will be tightening up its casual driver requirements as a result.
The police have been involved in all of these cases, and thieves have been criminally charged in each case.
Matte said there has been drug paraphernalia found in all of the returned cars.
“It is obvious that it has been people who are marginalized,” says Matte, “and the word is getting around that this is something you can do.”
She said the co-op’s cars are easily targeted because of the organization’s logo on the door and the lock box on the window.
Matte estimates the thefts have cost the organization about $35,000. It will cost $15,000 to replace the Ford pickup, and there have been repair and cleaning costs as well as lost revenue from the missing vehicles while they were out of service.
Matte said the community can help by making financial donations, or by donating cars. Any vehicle in good condition that is newer than 2005 would be welcome, she said.
The co-op has 15 cars in Nelson with another eight in Kaslo and Revelstoke, for a total of 23 vehicles serving 640 members.
Matte says the Kootenay Carshare is the only established carshare co-operative outside of major cities in Canada.