Beyond Our Edges: Shoni Madden – Making the Change You Want in Your City
Shoni Madden is a Sustainable Transportation Planner working in our small but mighty Winnipeg office. She spends her day using expertise and knowledge to help improve active transportation options in her hometown and beyond. But as one of the founders of Peg City Car Co-op, it’s clear Shoni’s dedication to mobility options has been a passion long before she joined the Urban Systems team.
What inspired you to explore launching car share in Winnipeg?
I first got involved when I was working for the City of Winnipeg’s Fleet Management Agency, my role involved researching and planning events around alternative fuels and vehicle technologies. I ended up meeting Beth McKechnie, who was working with a team of volunteers to conduct a feasibility study on whether or not carsharing would make sense for Winnipeg. I had recently got rid of my car after a few long months of ownership and hated the stress of it – the insurance, gas, cleaning, car payments, etc. I was intrigued and could see how carsharing could both fit with my lifestyle of primarily biking, walking, and busing, and also address my occasional need for a vehicle!
From there I started volunteering with a group of about eight who came together, all with a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for being at the table. I still remember the first meeting in 2007 – we met in a boardroom with a completely blank paper on the wall, and started jotting out the key steps. We knew we wanted to start a carshare, and that we wanted it to be a co-operative enterprise, we knew it was economically feasible, but how do we do it? It took two years to put together a business plan and navigate all the steps involved with launching the cooperative, but it was fascinating and such a learning experience to go through all the steps from building the financial and marketing plans, to recruiting members and teaching people about how it would work.
How did the group actually get it launched?
We needed to get the project financed, and we decided to go through a credit union because it is also a cooperative, so our values aligned. The challenge was that we needed 30 members to put down a membership share before could be approved for our loan. We hosted a membership recruitment event; I still remember we had these cupcakes with a little car drawn on them each with a number, and the whole evening was about getting to 30. We reached our goal that night, and I think many of our members put their money forward because they just believed in it. Because of that, we launched Peg City Car Co-op in Osbourne Village in June 2011, on Bike to Work day!
I learned so much from so many people along the way. Tanya Paz, who was working with Modo at the time to support the growth of other car co-ops in Canada, came to Winnipeg to help us establish Peg City Car Co-op, and I also made trips to the Modo offices in Vancouver. They helped answer a lot of our questions around staffing, vehicle technologies, and fleet management, and even tracking kilometres. It was an exciting time, and we looked to Modo and other emerging and developed carshares to help us make decisions on what might work best for us. We have modified and changed many things over time – especially getting rid of having to track your kilometers manually – but there were a lot of people to thank for helping us make choices that got us off on the right foot.
What was that experience like for you, taking a concept and bringing it to reality?
It was very exciting. By the time the co-op launched, I had been working in the non-profit sector for some time on active transportation, and despite lots of hard work over a number of years, I would think to myself, ‘Am I really making a difference? Is this actually changing the way our city functions?’ At the end of the day, I wanted to feel certain that I had accomplished something.
I have dedicated a large portion of my life and countless volunteer hours to this project – and every moment was thrilling because I knew I was changing transportation in my city for the better in a visible, tangible way.
Today, there are over 700 members and 26 vehicles with Peg City, and I’m just so happy about that. I know that I have played a part in changing the way our city functions and I’ve changed the way a lot of people function on a day to day basis. They are able to live car-free or with maybe just one car for a family in Winnipeg, and they use transit, and bike, and walk as primary ways to get around. We worked together to make that multi-modal lifestyle possible and an enjoyable experience.
What does being a member of Peg City mean for your family?
When I first got involved with Peg City, it was just me and my husband. Now we have two young kids, but we make it work. I’m the mom that you can see hauling two kids and two car seats through the snow to get to the car a few blocks away. I sometimes get funny looks, but I think the more people see that you can do it, and see how you do it, the better. I’d way rather truck that wagon on the street, and deal with the carseat business, than deal with all things that go along with car ownership any day!
Beyond that, I am still a very active member of the co-op, and now my husband is as well, possibly more so. I remember when we had just launched and I was on the Board of Directors, he’d have all these ideas of how to make it better, I eventually told him he had to start volunteering himself. Now we alternate terms on the board, as well as participate on a couple of committees each. Even my father-in-law is involved, helping to maintain the cars now that he’s retired. It’s become a bit of a family affair!
What has been most rewarding about the experience so far?
It has changed the way that I think about projects, knowing you can always do something that hasn’t been done before, and that working with a team of dedicated people, you can achieve a lot.
It also changed the way I think as a citizen. Many wait for governments to take action or make investments. Through this process I realized in a very powerful way that a community can come together and make something that improves their city. We provided another option. Our tagline is “Bike, walk, bus, and sometimes drive”. I think more people drive less, because they have Peg City.