NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Zipcars" Make City Travel Easier

July 18, 2003

A new company called Zipcar offers urban residents round-the-clock access to private cars for short-term round-trip use, creating an economical alternative to car ownership that is more convenient than public transit.

  • Zipcar clients pay a one-time membership fee and can use a Zipcar at anytime, paying per mile and per hour to use a car.
  • Members make online reservations for how long they would like to use a given car, and that information is sent to the Zipcar via wireless technology.
  • Cars are parked in convenient locations around the city, and the customer waves a Zipcard over the door to automatically unlock the car.

Zipcar is currently operating in Boston, New York City, Denver and Washington, D.C. Some 6,200 members are using 200 cars so far, and Zipcar's owner, Robin Chase, estimates that this means 3,000 less cars parked on city streets.

Because Zipcar is not a car rental company, it has had to deal with a regulatory system that doesn't quite know how to define it for tax, zoning and insurance purposes.

Though Zipcar has only existed for three years, Chase hopes that the innovation and popularity of her idea will someday lead to "a transit pass and a Zipcard" for every urban resident.

Source: Kit J. Nichols, "Wheels on Demand," Pioneering Spirit, Summer 2003, Pioneer Institute.


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