12/8/09 1:15 PMSharing to Avoid All the Hassles - New York TimesPage 2 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/25/automobiles/autospecial/25share.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
depending on the car and time of day. As many as 18 car-sharing services, with nearly 102,000 members and 2,558 vehicles,are operating in 60 American cities. Many are smaller regional services. Two of the bigger companies, Flexcar and Zipcar, overlap in Washington, D.C., and the SanFrancisco Bay Area, where a third agency, City CarShare, is well established. (Zipcar alsoshares the Chicago market with I-GO, which is a partner with Flexcar.) Zipcar is in New York City, too.Car-sharing operators charge a registration and monthly fee that offers access to a variety of cars for hourly rates. (Some tack on mileage.) The heavy lifting of insurance,repairs, maintenance and even filling the gas tank is left to the service.The programs also spare members the hassle of parking, especially in urban areas wherethe words “parking space” and “nightmare” can be synonymous. Dedicated parkingzones guarantee space and are increasingly located near public-transportation centers.The Bay Area Rapid Transit system currently has 40 spaces reserved for car-sharingservices outside its stations.“It’s well thought out, the rules and online reservations,” Ms. Noren said. “I just know that when I reserve a car, it will be clean and just what I need for the occasion. I canpark it and forget about it.”Car sharing originated in Europe in 1948 but gained popularity in Germany andSwitzerland in the 80’s. By the late 90’s, the first programs were taking shape in America, and now nearly a third of the world’s car-sharing members are here. Member- vehicle ratios, or the number of people who share each car, have risen from 7:1 in 1998to 40:1 in 2005.Dr. Susan Shaheen is the director of the Innovative Mobility Research group and aresearch scientist at theUniversity of California, Berkeley, who focuses on advancedtransportation systems and has conducted surveys on car sharing.“These programs are becoming popular based on three key trends,” Dr. Shaheen said.“The first is ongoing growth in membership and demand for vehicles. The second isinfusion of capital from the private sector. And the third is that there must be moredemand than is being served because we’re seeing multiple operators in several cities.”Customer loyalty can come from something as simple as which company’s car is parkednearest a home or office. Some members choose a provider based on the fleet choices.But the companies welcome the competition, especially in San Francisco, saying thatthree competitors only triple exposure to the ecological and financial benefits of carsharing.“A competitive market challenges everyone to be on top of their game from the productpoint of view and customer service,” said Mark D. Norman, chief executive of Flexcar.“We play hard with Zip and City Car Share in San Francisco. But the market is better forit.”Flexcar was bought last year by the venture capital firm of Stephen M. Case, a founder of America Online. Mr. Norman declined to state Flexcar’s revenues, but said that thesecond quarter of this year showed a 90 percent growth in revenues. At Zipcar, ScottGriffith, the chief executive, said that revenues would reach $30 million this year, up 100percent from 2005. The company has also raised $30 million in equity in the last two years to further its expansion.
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