Shared Wheels, Economical Deals on Campus

Shared Wheels, Economical Deals on Campus


FORMAL CAMPUS CAR-SHARING PROGRAMS continue to gain momentum, despite the recession. They’re certainly good for the environment. Zipcar, the most established of the campus car-sharing programs, reports that for every one of its cars on a campus, 15 personal cars can come off the campus. Students, faculty, and staff with the car-sharing perk are more likely to use alternate modes of transportation if they know they have access to an inexpensive vehicle for hourly use.

But what leaders at colleges and universities with car-sharing programs know?and appreciate in this economy?is that these environmentally sustainable efforts are also designed to be financially sustainable. They can even help an institution save capital funds that would have been used to build a new parking lot or structure.

While programs vary by institution and provider, they generally require an individual to apply online for an annual membership (usually at a cost) and then pay a nominal per-hour fee of, say, $8 to $10, or a daily rate to reserve use of a car that’s parked on campus with key inside. A swipe of a membership card through the car’s RFID reader unlocks the door. Reservations are taken in multiple ways, including by cellphone, so one could be standing next to a vehicle and reserve it in seconds.

Gas, maintenance, and insurance are covered for the school and the users, although the contract may include a revenue guarantee to cover costs in case there aren’t enough rentals. With Zipcar, for example, smaller schools and programs must guarantee $1,500 per car, per month.

With U Car Share, offered by U-Haul as an extension of its truck- and trailer-sharing model, on the other hand, the only guarantee institutions must make is for help in marketing the program.

These programs are designed to be cost neutral once they’re up and running. Matt Malloy, vice president of international university operations at Zipcar, says institutions may even save the $30,000 to $140,000 it costs to build a single new parking space. “Multi-tier structures cost a fortune to build,” he says.

As universities grow, administrators may be “stuck with the dilemma of building more classrooms or building more parking,” adds Mike Colman, program manager of U Car Share. Choosing car sharing helps keep the focus on students. U Car Share partner institutions choosing to pay for staff usage can set monthly monetary limits to keep spending in check.

Successful programs do require communication. “We work with the school to create custom marketing plans to ensure success,” says Malloy, who notes that institutions are “definitely using Zipcar as a way to get people to go to their school.” For instance, prospective students may be told they can come to college without a car, because “we have one for you.” And students or staff who travel to other campuses with the same car-sharing provider can access those cars during a visit.

The number of cars available on each campus, of course, also varies, but many institutions expect to add more (while at the same time, universities’ own fleets may shrink). The University of California, San Diego, for example, has 12 vehicles in its Zipcar inventory, eight located on its La Jolla campus and four at its medical center. The service is offered as a free incentive to Commute Solutions ride-share program participants?that is, those who travel to campus via carpool, vanpool, public transit, or bike, explains Rex Graham, senior director of media relations. The institution’s transportation office pays Zipcar a monthly fee to offer a limited dollar value of credits (up to $122 per year, per ride-share member) plus free application and annual membership. Non-ride-share affiliates of UC San Diego are eligible for a reduced membership fee of $35, plus a credit of $35 for ride sharing. The program’s numbers speak to its success: nearly 500 individuals are currently part of the car-sharing program.

As an incentive for use, students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech can get the $50 membership fee waived by being among the first to sign up for the institution’s U Car Share program, which launches in June. And the program will be free at all times to participants of Commuter Alternative Program. The six EPA SmartWay-certified vehicles will be parked at four different locations on campus, near classes, residence halls, and the student center.

Six vehicles at four locations is also the approach being taken by Washington University in St. Louis, which partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to bring WeCar to its campus in 2008?in part to help encourage the use of public transportation during highway construction closures happening downtown.

As car sharing grows, Colman can see one-way car sharing, such as for use between two different institutions, being offered several years from now. In theory, says Malloy, a single large campus could have a fleet of 100. Right now, Stanford University has the single largest Zipcar fleet, at over 20 vehicles.

Stanford has taken its program to the next level as the first campus to integrate Zipcar and Zimride, an online ride-sharing community. Zipcar members can seek, offer, and share rides with friends inside and outside of their social networks, and Zimride ride sharers can use Zipcar vehicles. “In the past, you had to own a vehicle to carpool, but all you need is access to a shared vehicle,” Malloy says. “That’s the big innovative piece.”