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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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Transit Operators Zip Up Deals with Car-Sharing Services

By Dan Schned

Car-sharing services such as Zipcar are a rapidly emerging business capable of removing the need for car ownership, increasing transit use and improving household mobility. Transit agencies are beginning to realize the mutually beneficial relationship they can have with these services and initiate partnerships with car-sharing operators in cities around the world.

Customers pay to rent a car or truck for short periods of time, usually a few hours, rather than own one. The costs and hassles involved with vehicle ownership—the purchase price, depreciation, insurance and maintenance, to name a few—which strain some households are shared among a large group of members. The rate members are charged is typically based on either the duration of use, miles traveled, or a combination of the two measures. The vehicles are located in convenient places, such as at transit stations, job centers or universities, where they improve access to the overall transit system. Members can get to them easily and quickly connect to destinations that are not served by fixed-route transit services.

These characteristics distinguish car-sharing from the traditional car rental, which usually occurs at central, staffed locations (i.e. airports) and involves a negotiated contract with customers for longer periods of time, typically multiple days. The mission statements of most car-sharing operators also set them apart from rental agencies. Car-sharing services often seek to reduce reliance on cars while retaining mobility—a goal that some Americans have embraced in the current economic climate and transit agencies can also appreciate.


Some transit agencies have forged partenrships with car-sharing

services like Zipcar, which they view as a last-mile solution

for riders.

The chair of the U.K. advisory body, the Commission for Integrated Transport, recently called car-sharing “a mode without a downside,” and supporters contend there are plenty of upsides. By reducing vehicle ownership and use, advocates say, car-sharing holds benefits users from both environmental and personal finance perspectives. Those who drive less than 6,000 miles per year (or as high as 10,000 miles, depending on local costs) can significantly lower their transportation costs by sharing a car. Some choose to sell a privately-owned car after joining a car-sharing program in favor of cleaner, more energyefficient modes of transportation.

The idea must be catching on because car-sharing services are growing, and fast. In 2001, there were 5,377 members of different car-sharing services in the U.S., and by 2005 membership had grown to 76,420. According to some estimates, there are now over 300,000 people in this country sharing around 6,000 vehicles—over a 55-fold increase in less than a decade.

Benefits to Transit Agencies

These burgeoning programs exist in a variety of forms throughout the U.S. and are beginning to have a significant impact on travel behavior, mode choice, and vehicle ownership rates. For example, 20 percent of all car-sharing members nationwide gave up at least one vehicle after joining and 41 percent were able to avoid a new purchase. In 2008, research at the University of California, Berkeley, indicated that every shared vehicle is estimated to remove at least six privately owned vehicles from the road, and as many as 20 under certain
conditions. Therefore, the majority of car-sharing members travel fewer miles in cars and take more transit, biking and walking trips.

In fact, a report by the Transit Cooperative Research Program concluded that nearly 40 percent of car-sharing members said they used transit more after joining the program. A survey conducted by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority found that Zipcar members in the nation’s capital “report a 46 percent increase in public transit trips, a 10 percent increase in bicycling trips, and a 25 percent increase in walking trips,” after joining. In a recent survey, Zipcar members said they drove 5,295 miles per year before joining and now on average drive only 369 miles annually.

“Zipcar has partnerships with transit agencies across the country, given [our] close and symbiotic relationship,” Zipcar Director of Corporate Communications Nancy Scott Lyon said. “We work closely with our transit agency partners to help individuals and businesses realize the benefits of using transit and car-sharing. Studies have shown that car sharing members increase their use of public transit. Likewise, the presence of a strong transit system makes it easier for people to get where they need to go without owning a car.”

In 2008, NJ Transit decided to locate shared vehicles owned by Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing company, at five rail transit stations throughout New Jersey. Joe North, general manager of light rail and contracted services at NJ Transit, who spearheaded the agreement with Zipcar, said the goals of Zipcar and the transit system were the same—to reduce automobile dependence.

PhillyCarShare, a car-sharing service in Philadelphia, has adopted a promotion that pays for a rail transit trip taken to connect to one of their shared vehicles located at over 40 rail stations. And in May, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) expanded its partnership with Zipcar to allow its vehicles at a dozen key commuter hubs for use as a last-mile travel solution.

“While CTA provides convenient service throughout Chicago, there are occasions when people need a car to run errands—like when going to the grocery store,” said CTA President Richard Rodriguez. “The expansion of this partnership with Zipcar makes it even easier for customers to conveniently combine both modes of travel without the expense of having a car full-time.”

Shared vehicles placed at bus stops and rail stations make destinations which were previously out of the reach available to transit users and those who can’t afford to own a car. A growing list of transit operators believe this relationship can help them capture new riders and have a positive impact on their bottom lines.

Dan Schned is pursuing a master of city and regional planning degree at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy of Rutgers University.
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