Hoping to attract buyers who are tired of spending hours commuting back and forth to work in their cars, KSI Services is developing many of its projects near public transportation centers. But this year, the Vienna, Va.-based builder is one-upping its own efforts–as well as those of the competition–in densely-populated metro markets.

As a complement to public transit, KSI also is offering home buyers access to Flexcar by giving the popular car-sharing service a parking space at each of its eight Maryland and Virginia communities strategically located along Metro rail and bus lines. Residents who join the service can reserve the car, keep it for as long as necessary, return it to its space and pay only for the time the car is used.

“Traffic congestion is quickly becoming a major social and political issue, and there are no simple solutions to the problem,” says John Chappelear, KSI's senior vice president of condominium operations. “We are offering residents an alternative to switching on the ignition and battling other drivers during the morning and afternoon rush hours.”

CAR FOR HIRE: KSI Builders makes it convenient for homeowners in Virginia and Maryland to take public transportation, have access to a car at commuter parking lots and pay only for driving time. The concept of car sharing, which began in Europe in the mid-1980s, has quickly gained a foothold in this country. Flexcar, founded in 1999 as a public-private partnership supported by King County, Wash., and the city of Seattle, is now a private, for-profit company with operations in six U.S. cities–Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington. AOL founder Steve Case thought so much of the idea that he bought controlling interest in Flexcar last summer for his “Revolution Living,” which invests in companies that give consumers new choices to promote healthier, simpler lives and a healthier planet.

Flexcar claims more than 28,000 individual and 500 corporate and government members. And it's fleet–everything from hybrids to pickups, from sports cars to SUVs–is dispersed throughout the country. Members can take a vehicle anywhere in the contiguous 48 states as long as they bring it back to the location where they started. According to the company, there are now more than 30 similar organizations in North America alone operating in 36 metro areas with a fleet of some 1,800 vehicles.

KSI is the first builder in the Washington area to offer the service, but it can't attribute any sales directly to the fact that a car is available within a community. However, marketing director Cassie Cataline says company sales people tell her many prospects “are very impressed we offer Flexcar as an option.”

There's no way to tell if a buyer in one of KSI's Flexcar communities has decided to get rid of their vehicle as a result of this service either, but people living in Manhattan, Chicago, and other major cities have gone car-less for years, so why not the close-in Washington suburbs?

The prospect takes on a lot of credibility when you consider the expense of owning a car outright. According to the American Automobile Association, it costs nearly $7,000 a year to operate a motor vehicle, a fact KSI stresses in its marketing literature. Flexcar underscores that fact, too. “The typical member spends $100 a month with us, if that,” says Ryan Robertson, KSI's director of business development. “‘What can you do with an extra $600 a month?' is how we sell the product.”

KSI also points out that navigating the region's highways and byways is becoming increasingly time-consuming. The average D.C.-area motorist spends 69 hours a year in traffic jams, according to studies.

Meanwhile, Cataline says her company likes the concept so much that it is thinking of offering it “in reverse” at Potomac Club, a distant suburb in Prince William County. There, a Flexcar van would be available to groups of homeowners for their daily commute and on weekends for individual family outings or to satisfy other needs.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.