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READY TO GO Christina Noren unlocks the Zipcar she reserved online. By LAURA NOVAK Published: October 25, 2006

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Reserved parking spot for a Zipcar.

CHRISTINA NOREN’S dream car sits in a rented space near her San Francisco home. It is a cream colored 1963 Studebaker Avanti that she has coveted since childhood, when one sped past her on the Golden Gate Bridge. But the Avanti is technically a garage queen, pampered and dormant. So Ms. Noren must rely on a carsharing service for her daily needs — letting the service carry the financial and logistical burdens of owning the


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car she uses the most. “I just found it the most convenient way to have a car when and where I need it in the city,” said Ms. Noren, who lives in North Beach but runs a start-up company in the South of Market neighborhood. “I own a fun car that I can’t rely on to get me to a meeting on time. But to me it would be so unnecessary to have a lease on a modern, boring car that is going to lose value and get less interesting by the year.” Car sharing may be a small but growing business, but its environmental good sense and cost-effectiveness are reverberating across America. Car-sharing services provide what experts in the field call “mobility insurance” because these businesses provide instant, convenient access to a wide variety of vehicles, many of them hybrids, on a pay-as-you-go basis. An hourly rate can cost about $2 to $13, depending on the car and time of day. Page 1 of 4

Sharing to Avoid All the Hassles - New York Times

12/8/09 1:15 PM

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 San Francisco Bay Area, where a third agency, City CarShare, is well established. (Zipcar also shares 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 where the words “parking space” and “nightmare” can be synonymous. Dedicated parking zones guarantee space and are increasingly located near public-transportation centers. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system currently has 40 spaces reserved for car-sharing services 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 can park it and forget about it.” Car sharing originated in Europe in 1948 but gained popularity in Germany and Switzerland 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. Membervehicle ratios, or the number of people who share each car, have risen from 7:1 in 1998 to 40:1 in 2005. Dr. Susan Shaheen is the director of the Innovative Mobility Research group and a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who focuses on advanced transportation 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 is infusion of capital from the private sector. And the third is that there must be more demand 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 parked nearest 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 that three competitors only triple exposure to the ecological and financial benefits of car sharing. “A competitive market challenges everyone to be on top of their game from the product point 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 for it.” 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 the second quarter of this year showed a 90 percent growth in revenues. At Zipcar, Scott Griffith, the chief executive, said that revenues would reach $30 million this year, up 100 percent from 2005. The company has also raised $30 million in equity in the last two years to further its expansion.


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Sharing to Avoid All the Hassles - New York Times

12/8/09 1:15 PM

The main force behind the success of car sharing has been that fewer cars on the road equals less congestion and lower emissions and energy use. Dr. Shaheen said that studies from 1999 to 2005 indicate that 11 to 26 percent of carsharing participants in the United States sold a personal vehicle after using a service, and 12 to 68 percent postponed or entirely avoided buying a car. “There’s always a temptation to look at the environmental focus,” Mr. Griffith said. “But I think that’s the sizzle and not the steak. This is a very compelling opportunity to not own a car and have all the convenience at less cost. It makes a lot of sense.” Dr. Shaheen said that the limitations of urban space will eventually force these companies to move beyond their neighborhood niches to partnerships with developers and planned communities outside cities. Zipcar and Flexcar have already begun programs on university campuses. Overlapping memberships, Dr. Shaheen said, will also provide ease of use between cities, connecting the dots for users around the country. Despite positive reactions from customers, car-sharing operators have not thought of everything. Michelle Paris of Oakland loved car sharing because a vehicle was parked across the street from her house. But she had to cancel her contract and buy a second car. “The biggest issue was the car seat,” Ms. Paris said. “If I wanted to bring my son anywhere, I had to bring my own car seat. Car sharing targets a pretty narrow market. And as you move in or out of that market, you may not find it valuable to use.”
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