CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The downsizing trend is catching on at college campuses, where new businesses are now renting cars to students and staff members who don't want or need a vehicle on campus. It's not your typical rental over days or weeks. It's hourly, reported

UNC-Chapel Hill provides four permanent parking spaces around campus for Zipcars, a car service whose members rent cars by the hour. Cars are shuttled to the garage for maintenance and the university guarantees a minimum usage. The university, which contracts the service from the Zipcar company, began offering it to faculty and staff in 2004 and opened it to students this year. It is the only university in the state that has Zipcar.

"Once the students are here, we try to provide all different ways for them to get around without bringing their car," said Claire Kane, transportation demand manager at UNC-CH. "Zipcar is part of that. The program has been building gradually. "Now we're at the point where you can't count on getting a car the same day," said Kane.

Jennifer Lund, 26, moved to Chapel Hill about a month ago from New York to attend graduate school in public health. She liked not having a car in New York and has used a bicycle to get around Chapel Hill.

"I want to go without a car," Lund said. On Thursday, she rented a Honda Civic from Zipcar to drop off a friend at the train station in Durham. "Renting by the hour is much more reasonable than renting from a car service by the day."

Electric fleet

On the campus of UNC-Charlotte, the fleet of university vehicles is gradually going electric. Larry B. Lane, plant maintenance supervisor for UNC-Charlotte, has replaced about half of the fleet of gasoline-powered utility carts with electric carts.

It's part of a 2005 mandate by the state legislature directing state agencies that have motor fleets to reduce use of petroleum by 20 percent by 2010.

Among its 56 electric vehicles, UNC-Charlotte has 24 GEM cars and 24 Club cars -- another brand of electric utility carts. It also has 35 "flex-fuel" vehicles.

"I think we use more electric vehicles than any other campus in the state," Lane said. "We do everything from campus tours to maintenance and housekeeping to groundskeeping." Lane said the change in the fleet had reduced fuel consumption by more than 5,000 gallons annually. He plans to study the maintenance and operating cost of the competing brands. "I'm looking at every possible way to reduce emissions and be cleaner on this campus," said Lane. "I will purchase only electrics as far as utility car use."

Shayan Samsam, director of GEM car sales at Auto Park Chrysler Jeep in Cary, N.C., one of a handful of GEM dealers in the state, said he sells two to three GEM cars a month. They range from $7,500 for the basic model to $18,000 for six-seaters with extra options. Nationally, about 35,000 are on the road.

"As more people see them and become better educated about the environment, I think they're going to be a big hit," Samsam said.

Local governments are among those buying. Since 2004, the city of Asheville, N.C. has added eight GEM cars to its fleet of to reduce its overall emissions. Parking enforcement officers drive them and police officers patrol parts of downtown. One model with a mini-pickup bed on the back replaced a pickup truck, said Chris Dobbins, Asheville's fleet manager. "They are so doggone friendly looking," Dobbins said, "I think it has helped the image of the police."