LADOT: Car Sharing a Hit at UCLA, USC. No Plans to Broaden the Program or Encourage Competition to ZipCar

1_28_10_zip.jpgPhoto from last fall’s Zip Car press conference at UCLA. Photo: LAist

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation reported on the success that car-sharing has had in the areas around USC and UCLA where spaces were installed on the streets around campus on September 14 of last yearThe preliminary report showed that by adding the new spaces, which totaled twelve new spaces and cars for the entire city, membership in ZipCar jumped by thirty-five percent, which was the growth expected in the first year.  ZipCar staff also noted that the cars are being rented for more hours than expected per day.  They attributed the success to the "strong anchors" of the college campuses and the visibility offered by having the spaces appear on the streets.

However, just because the pilot-program has been an overwhelming success, there are no plans to increase the program beyond vague commitments to come up with new ways to expand the program.

Amir Sedadi, a senior staff member at LADOT explained to the City Council Transportation Committee one reason for the lack of energy. "I think the biggest challenge is the reality of the fiscal crisis that we have," explained Sedado.  The staff report to the committee details a 22% staff shortage in the parking permit program keeping the city from working on expanding the program.  Sedadi noted that there is an increase in demand for temporary permit parking, which floods the division and keeping them from working to expand the program.  Sedadi also noted that there is a lack of local staff from Zipcar, so there is no opportunity to lean on the company to help fill in enforcement or other gaps.

Because of these challenges, non-zip cars often park in spaces designated for car-sharing which leads to customers not being able to find the cars and the Zip Cars being ticketed and towed.

There were three ways to expand the program that were discussed at the hearing.  One obvious suggestion would be a partnership with Metro to create a car sharing program at transit stations with spots dedicated in the parking lots.  This suggestion, first floated by Sedadi, was championed by Hilary Norton of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (F.A.ST.)  The good news is that The Community Redevelopment Association and LADOT are both in dicussion with Metro on how they can make that happen.  The bad news?  There was no timetable or outline presented on when this suggestion could become a reality.

Sedadi also mentioned the possibility of using ZipCars as pool vehicles for the city.  LA Streetsblog has covered how other cities, such as Philadelphia and Seattle, have saved tens of millions of dollars every year by replacing their "take home vehicle fleet" with a car sharing program.  Such a plan might be politically difficult, after all you’re asking the Council Members to give up some of the cars dedicated to their staff.  However, as we noted back in September of 2008,

For example, in Philadelphia the city replaced 330 vehicles
in its fleet with a car sharing program that saves the city millions of
dollars each year and provides for vehicular mobility for city workers
when needed.  With the finnancial stability of the city helping to
stabilize their budget, the non-profit Philly car-share was able to
expand its membership to over 30,000 residents.

A last suggestion for expanding car sharing in Los Angeles came from Stephen Box, who has chronicled the efforts of Hollywood businessman Bechir Blagui to bring public electric charging stations to Hollywood transit stations that would be shared between an electric car-share program and privately owned electric cars.  His City Watch Column from last November raises the question of whether or not the city has an exclusive contract with ZipCar (it doesn’t) and if not why it isn’t more supporting of local entrepeneurs trying to create car-share programs in their community.  The run-around Blagui is given by the city is truly a frustrating read, but if you don’t have time, here’s the brief version:

Bechir’s quest for a Hollywood car-share program, offering electric
community cars, supported by a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard,
open to the public and accessible 24 hours a day, has led him to the
LADOT, the DWP, Councilman LaBonge’s office, City Council President
Eric Garcetti’s office, Assemblyman Mike Feuer’s office, the City
Council, the streets of Santa Monica, the neighborhoods surrounding USC
and UCLA and all he has to show for his travails is a request from
Garcetti’s Transportation Deputy to do more research for a meeting next
month.

In 2008, both ZipCar and its national rival FlexCar had spaces throughout the city.  However, when the two groups combined, it resulted in a huge net loss in spaces for car sharing in Los Angeles.  In fact, the cars were only available on college campuses.  Since then, the city has looked for small ways to bring car sharing back.  Their first effort was to dedicate street spaces to ZipCars last year.

ZipCar and the LADOT will be back in front of the Council for another update in 120 days.

  • And the reason Michelle Mowery is blocking the installation of a bike parking corral at Avenue 50 and York Blvd. is … ?

  • Just wanted to add some info for those wondering why Zipcar is only on campuses in LA:

    Zipcar does not have an office in LA. What they do for LA (and many, many cities where cars are only on college campuses) is essentially franchise out the brand to a local operator. In a city like New York, Zipcar has a large staff including management, customer service and operators who move cars, service them etc. In LA….they have nobody.

    How to get zipcar in LA for real? It must be a viable market. Clearly, the company doesn’t think they can profit from it, so theyre going to need incentives such as a subsidy…or a competitor to prove them wrong.

  • Why is Zipcar at UCLA when they have a perfectly good bus line right outside the campus? Why are we encouraging the status of the car in the only sanctuary of middle class life in Los Angeles where you don’t have to own a car.

    Do you think cycling would have taken off as it did if college campuses all had zipcar rental opportunities?

    This is not a good thing. Car rentals in far flung suburbs ok, but this is not sustainable for the planet. Students who come to campus with no car tend to continue to have no car throughout their tenure on campus this is only encouraging the LA drive, drive, drive, kill, kill, kill, consume, consume, consume attitude.

    Do you think Zipcar is going to make anyone who has a car think about not having one, I don’t think so, but it will get people who don’t own one to drive and think, “Hey this is not so bad maybe I’ll buy a car.”

    Browne

  • There is a guy in Hollywood who has been trying to get the DWP and the BSS to let him install an electric car charger in front of his business.

    http://www.coulombtech.com/blog/ev-charging-stations/hollywood-charging-stations/

  • Paul

    I asked a zip car person one time why they pulled LA zip cars from downtow and other locations like Pasadena. They said that flexcar didn’t get a lot of buisness and they had to realine there car placement stratagy so that it could be profitable. Hence the reason why the cars are located at UCLA and USC. Zipcar has built in clientele right there. I do wish they would bring cars back downtown, but unless LA becomes even denser I doubt this would happen.

  • @jass

    Thank you for explaining that. As I was reading the article I kept wondering why the city is even involved in a private operation. I just moved to LA from DC and was shocked at the lack of car sharing here, especially since LA would stand to benefit so much from it. I’m very curious as to what kind of model Zipcar used to predict that setting up their own operation wouldn’t be profitable. As far as I can see this would be the most profitable city possible. In East Coast cities, carsharing is a mere convenience- there are other transportation options for carfree individuals. And Zipcar is still hugely popular. In a city like LA where options are limited, I can’t imagine a full scale program here being anything but a massive gamechanger.

    How can we convince Zipcar of this?

  • Tom

    Your blog post is slightly inaccurate. Zipcar had no operations in Los Angeles prior to its takeover of Flexcar, which had many cars downtown, and a couple of others scattered about town in neighborhoods like Wilshire Center and Santa Monica in addition to USC and UCLA.

    Zipcar got rid of them all but @ UCLA and USC in a big purge circa January 2008. There WAS overlap in other cities like the SF Bay area and DC, but not in L.A. I was a one of the Flexcar members that was hit by the purge when all the downtown Flexcars were eliminated.

    For those interested in debating the viability of car sharing, a pretty comprehensive analysis of the concept can be found at http://www.citycarshare.org/download/CCS_BCCtYC_Long.pdf

  • Eric B

    @Browne,

    I really want to agree with you, but having just graduated from USC I can tell you that students do bring their cars to campus for a variety of reasons. College campuses are the perfect place for car-sharing because that is where one car can be shared among many students and actually reduce the demand for parking. With no need to drive to class, students keep cars for running errands and going out with friends–perfect uses for car-sharing because trips are dispersed more evenly over the day. Also, college students are likely heading somewhere with multiple friends, making the car more efficient.

    I sincerely wish that public transit served all of my needs. I take it whenever I can, but having a car available fills in the transportation gaps. With both USC and UCLA to be served by future rail lines, we can hope that students will have even less of a desire to have cars. Having the option to car-share reduces demand for ownership/parking and reduces VMT compared to people who would otherwise own.

  • Carsharing in LA, esp. at campus’ like USC and UCLA is a tiny step in the right direction.

    The biggest problem with carsharing is the deal with Zipcar.

    Like @jass said, Zipcar, their upper upper management is totally confused and actually in practice very anti-sustainability. Why’s that? Because of their price structure. Zipcar requires payment from the user as long as the car is not in it’s designated parked spot. Essentially, they want people to be driving their cars, because they don’t make money when the car is parked in its designated parking area. If Zipcar was truly about mobility and “carsharing” in the real sense, they’d allow users to drop the car off at any designated “zipcar” parking spot and no longer be assessed a fee. Then users would be able to drive from point A to B, and only pay for that trip rather than pay for point A to B, run errands, go to work, etc. and from B to A again.

    As well, although owning a car may be more expensive in the long term, the cost to use Zipcar at a rate of 7 hours, which is the typical rental time at USC, makes the service to expensive to be of any real use in an area like Los Angeles where residents and visitors are concerned about their next destination and not the present destination.

    The problem is basically between the City of LA and more so Zipcar. So it’s very sad that City of LA won’t be expanding out to other services, and more so goes to show what the real agenda at the City of LA is.

  • Car Sharing is now in 1,000 cities in the world. The need is world wide for every car shared 9 to 13 are taken off the road. This is not the end all solution but it is filling a need that will continue to grow as the cost of owning and operating a car continues to increase and the spaces we live in continue to shrink. This concept is not going away for individuals and small families with small budgets it gives them a chance to use it only when they really need it and the piece of mind knowing you can use it when you need it…

  • Carsharing is much needed, primarily for permanent residents!!! Permanent residents contribute more to the congestion than college students. If anything, the college campus encourages MORE use of the cars.

    This especially creates more congestion as residents are getting off of work and are headed home or to pickup their children.

    Carsharing is ideally meant to supplement the use of the transit, rail or biking.

  • Right now I drive my scooter from Echo Park to USC every time I need a ZipCar. Its a pain, but far less of a pain than getting ripped off by using a car-rental service like Enterprise or Budget. Last time I used Budget they wanted to put a $500 hold on my check card since I preferred not to use a credit card. That’s insanity.

    I don’t know how to convince ZipCar to open up more locations across LA but the sooner they do it the better.

  • Chris- in a couple of months you will have more suitable options through LAXCarshare.

    LAXCarshare was created with the sole purpose of filling in the gaps, left by Zipcar, once they moved to a primary college campus focus.

  • Melissa-

    Good to know! I will keep an eye on LAXCarshare, and keep my fingers crossed for a location close to Echo Park.

  • As the Founder/CEO of LAXCarshare, and a former employee of UCLA Transportation Services as well as Flexcar (we where phased out the day of the merger) it is goal to make the cars more accessible to the residents and create a sustainable program.

    We are concerned with meeting goals outlined in SB 375 to work towards VMT reduction as well as encouraging more alternative transportation solutions to residents at large…

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