Carsharing: Zipcar and Flexcar joining forces

Courtesy of FlexcarEven for people who meet their daily needs by walking, biking or taking transit, sometimes you just need a car. A few years ago, if you didn’t own a car but needed one to use for an hour or a day, your options might have consisted of borrowing a friend’s wheels, or spending 20 minutes in line and filling out 3 pages of paperwork at the rental office — out by the airport.

It’s easy to see the conflict between trying to accommodate automobiles while designing places for people. But what if you could cut down on the number of automobiles in a growing urban area while still providing access to them?

Carsharing gives urban dwellers a better middle-of-the-road option than having to decide between the black and white options of owning a car or two, and committing completely to traveling by other modes. Back in February, I wrote about the rise of car-sharing in our newsletter:

…it might be as simple as walking out the front door of your apartment building and around the corner and waving a special keycard over the front window of the hundreds or more of available cars parked at convenient locations across the city. After your trip, you simply return the car to the dedicated parking space where you found it. Flexcar and Zipcar have both reached agreements with transit services across the country to have permanent spaces for their cars near bus and rail stations. Many city dwellers may own and park a car that they drive only once or twice a week.

The Washington Post chronicled the news today that these two biggest carsharing companies are merging into one company in hopes of reaching profitability. It’s been a privately-funded venture for the first few years, and while some markets for each company have been profitable, both companies have been sinking their profits into expansion into new and existing markets.

My wife and I joined Flexcar last year, and have loved the usefulness of the service. In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I own one car (rather, a small truck). She takes the train to work and I usually bike ten minutes to the office, so it goes unused most days. We affectionately call it our “getaway vehicle” since we mostly just use it to go camping or to destinations out of our neighborhood that we can’t reach on Metro or bike. It’s merely one of several transportation options.

When we moved to Washington, we sold our other car, mostly because we knew there would be other options. We debated going carless completely, but that seemed so far away from what we were used to that it was hard to envision. After using Flexcar (mostly to drive family or friends around since our car only holds two), we’ve come to grips with the fact that we could easily live without the car we still own. Thanks for services like Flexcar, giving up our car wouldn’t mean we were giving up the option to [easily] drive one.

The statistics back up experiences like ours. From the same newsletter:

Flexcar and Zipcar claim that each of their cars put into service removes up to 15-20 private automobiles from the road. Zipcar even found out that 40 percent of their members decide against purchasing a car, or end up selling their current car. An incidental benefit is both companies use of fuel-efficient cars — some hybrids — and newer cars that emit less pollution than older cars.

Some other interesting factoids from Zipcar:

courtesy of ZipcarEach Zipcar takes over 20 personally owned vehicles off the road.

Since each Zipcar takes over 20 cars off the road, less land and financial resources are needed to provide parking infrastructure.

Zipcar members drove 5295 miles/year prior to joining Zipcar. The average Zipcar member currently drives only 369 miles/year.

Members of Zipcar and car sharing programs report a 47% increase in public transit trips, a 10% increase in bicycling trips and a 26% increase in walking trips.

Zipcar is part of the urban transportation mix. With Zipcar, members are more likely to take advantage of all methods of transportation. Zipcar members use cars only when they need to, and often walk or bike more, resulting in healthier residents.

At Zipcar’s current membership adoption rates, Zipcar and other agencies anticipate that well over 10% of an urban population will participate in Zipcar’s car sharing service. In Washington DC, for example, with a current population of over 600,000 residents, a conservative 10% adoption would result in 60,000 car sharing members throughout the city. At scale, over 24,000 vehicles would be taken off the road. Zipcar already has a 10% adoption in areas throughout all of its established metro markets.