City Celebrates Expanded Zip Car Near UCLA and USC

Earlier today Mayor Villaraigosa, city officials, and representatives from Zipcar, UCLA and USC celebrated the arrival of 12 new off-campus parking spaces reserved specifically for car-sharing near the two college campuses. The hope is that if these spaces prove profitable for the car-sharing company than they can partner with the city for more of these types of spaces in places other than on or adjacent to college campuses.

While the twelve spaces are good news, even considering that the spaces happen to be very near the only Zipcar spaces still in existence in the city, Villaraigosa and others seem to have gotten a little carried away in the impact this will have on the car-culture of Los Angeles. From the press release:

Los Angeles may be the car capital of the world, but through this partnership
among universities, Zipcar and the City of Los Angeles we are opening the door
to make car ownership optional for people who live or work here," said Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa. "Providing alternatives to car ownership will help
improve the environment and the city’s traffic congestion.

That’s a lot of sound for twelve converted parking spaces. Think of how much congestion could be saved by a large-scale parking reform plan, or a car-sharing plan that was available city-wide.

If the idea of city-wide car sharing seems a pipe dream after car-sharing all but disappeared from the city in January of 2008, then fear not. Other cities have brought car-sharing back from the brink by subsidizing the program by reducing the take-home car fleet offered to city staff and offices and using that money to subsidize car-sharing city-wide. Philadelphia has saved millions of dollars from this strategy, and other cities around the country have followed suit.

By this point everyone except Councilman Tom LaBonge, who wants to grow the take-home program, knows that there are serious problems with the city’s take-home program. Former Comptroller Laura Chick outlined the many ways the city was wasting money and resources by providing such a large fleet with such lax requirements, and Mayor Villaraigosa has twice tried to reform the program. The first time he was thwarted by a City Council that freaked out at the thought of losing the cars their staffers were given to drive around the district. The second time he pushed through some minor reforms that made the system less broken.

But with the city focused on car-sharing for one day, and celebrating the twelve new spaces that have been opened today is a great day to remind them that true reform of our parking system and vehicle fleet system could happen together which could save the city millions of dollars annually and an untold amount of Greenhouse Gases.

  • Hey I’d rather have trains (and some buses) running everywhere too, but in the meantime I’m very excited to see Zipcar make inroads.

    I want to see them put Zipcars at every metrolink station; this may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I live at one and don’t have a car :)

  • Zipcar works very well at reducing car use. My sister is a freshman at USC. Of course, she wanted to buy a car over the summer because “I cant NOT have a car in LA!”. I convinced her to try zipcar for a semester, and then decide if she needs a car. I did the math for her. Even if she used zipcar every day it would be cheaper than owning a car (parking + insurance + lease + gas). Fortunately, money is an effective way to communicate.

    Shes been at school for 3 weeks and hasnt even gotten a zipcar membership. Turns out, she can survive in LA without a car.

  • Let’s be clear, I got nothing against ZipCar. Love them. 12 new spaces is a good thing. I just wonder about all the celebrating being done by the city. 4 million people live in L.A., 12 new spaces isn’t THAT big of a deal.

  • matt

    12 spaces HA! what about the 40ish spaces they REMOVED from all over the city after they acquired flexcar. zipcar was the worst thing to happen to living carfree in LA yet. screw that company.

  • walker o

    Good point Damien. Keep applying that thinking. Its about numbers.

    Why is the idea of city-wide car sharing a dream? Is it because it is more communal? Isn’t the point to get people out of their cars? This make it convenient for those who couldn’t afford to drive the opportunity to avoid mass transit or peddle power. Why is this idea good?

    Here is alternative suggestion. Make driving expensive by making parking spaces rare and difficult to come by. Forget zip cars, we can develop a fuel cell taxi fleet.

  • Will Campbell

    Damien you g’head and love ZipCar all you want. I’ll simply echo Matt above and say that ZipCar can suck it.

    See, there used to be a struggling little company called FlexCar in Los Angeles, doing its best, with never enough money and a network of cars stationed in downtown, Hollywood, mid-Wilshire and Westwood. There was even one garaged at the Eco-Village. ZipCar bought FlexCar up and like an invading force waltzed into town all smiles and dreams, but by way of a welcome gave a mighty fuck you to all FlexCar members by sending us pretty new membership cards to use on cars that no longer existed because they’d reallocated all vehicle assets to the campuses of USC/UCLA.

    We can dream on about ZipCar growing car-sharing in Los Angeles, but the reality is if the shiny vehicles in those dozen new off-campus parking spaces that the mayor and ZipCar bigwigs are getting all misty over don’t turn a profit? They’ll be gone. Like ZIP!

  • Yeah I was so disappointed when Zip Car came to Los Angeles. I heard about Flex Car, but at the time I was under 25, and they did not allow under 25 drivers. This irked me because I hate being lumped as irresponsible because of others when my driving record is spotless, zero accidents, zero moving violations. I still had a car then but was considering getting rid of it and the idea of an easy car sharing system appealed to me. They even had a few locations not too far away in my local Santa Monica.

    Then when I heard Zip was taking them over I was initially very excited because Zip did allow under 25 year olds to drive. Then they came and took all the cars away from anywhere convenient for me and now that I am finally 25, I would have been better off with Flex Car if it still existed. I rarely ever drive since getting into cycling, but ironically the times I do it is to go out to race on my bicycle, typically in locals that are impracticable by public transit.

  • Jody Litvak

    And why has car sharing struggled in LA, whether Flex Car or Zip Car? I would argue that just making the cars available is not enough — or at least it hasn’t been in LA. Check out the Philadelphia model, really. Damien knows what he’s talking about. By contracting out their pool cars to a car sharing entity, the city saved $$, the car sharing entity became economically viable, and hundreds (yes, hundreds) of cars were available throughout Philly for city employees AND anyone else! Soooo, simple.

  • Those of you blaming Zipcar for the demise of Flexcar don’t really understand the way business works. Flexcar was trying to bring car sharing to Los Angeles, and they tried damn hard, I was a Flexcar member for two years and they had probably 50 cars in the Downtown area alone. In downtown you were probably always only a block or two away form a Flexcar. What’s more, I rarely had trouble making a reservation for one of the 50 Flexcars. They were ALWAYS available. Now I don’t know the exact numbers, but I have to imagine the costs of running such a business are high, and when I’m one of the few people taking advantage of the business (as evidenced by the constant availability of cars) then I imagine the revenue is not enough to cover those costs. Now as much as you may have wanted Flexcar to continue losing money by providing cars for you, that’s just not how it works. Zipcar came in, bought the struggling company and one can imagine looked at the numbers, and restructured the business into one where revenue could cover the costs.

    If Flexcar was a restaurant, it would be one of those that you are embarrassed to walk by because you see the staff of 50 waiters waiting patiently for a single customer to walk in. You’d love to walk in but that fact is you already ate.

    The reason Flexcar failed is the same reason any other business fails, because there are not enough Angelenos who need such a service. Remember, the car-free in Los Angeles, especially those who can afford a car sharing service, is a TINY MINORITY relative to the entire population.

    Zipcar fired a bunch of the waiters at the Flexcar restaurant and moved it to a place where the knew there were some hungry people.

    So the options are, we have to wait until the car-free population increases (keep advocating people) to a point where such a business is viable or we try a publicly funded program like Jody mentioned.

    As for the press release that Zipcar is adding 12 spaces in the city, I agree with Damien that it is rather laughable, only in that it’s like the fledgling restaurant announcing that it’s hired a few more waiters, it does nothing to address the fact that most people aren’t hungry.

  • Tala Gayle

    Great to see a focus on car sharing, but is anyone else concerned that the City is giving away our streets to a private company? How much of a subsidy are we giving Zipcar? Does Zipcar need this subsidy in order to make car sharing financially profitable? Seems to me that the public isn’t being served as well here…. perhaps the politicians (and Zipcar) are the one’s who are benefiting the most.

  • Will Campbell

    I’m enjoying Camino’s gross assumption that because I disagree with the way ZipCar did/does business, I’m somehow naive or ignorant not just about their business model, but the way business works in general. Thanks for that, Fred.

    I’ve always understood it’s about revenue. Clearly. And it still is, as I pointed out in the close of my initial comment. If those new expansion parking spaces don’t aren’t profitiable, Zipcar will retract like a snail back into its on-campus shell.

  • Jody Litvak

    To continue Fred’s analogy, I believe Philly Car Share has more “patrons in the restaurant” and is therefore financially viable, because the City has become their major client. I do not believe they are “subsidized.”

  • Will, I didn’t mean to offend. It’s just that from your post, and Matt’s before you, the implication was that Zipcar came into town and for no good reason decided to arbitrarily remove all the Flexcars and screw over the people who had enjoyed the service. But it seems to me if you recognize the business model, and recognize that it wasn’t working, you can’t really vilify Zipcar in that way. To go with the restaurant analogy again, if there’s a restaurant that you love but it has to close because it can’t get enough other patrons to afford to stay open, I don’t think it’s a personal attack to the patrons of the restaurant when it closes, it’s just the reality of business. I’m sure Zipcar would love nothing more than to have cars all over the city, but Flexcara already tried that and it failed.

    I guess I should ask what you would have done from a business perspective if you were Zipcar?

  • Damien asked why Zipcar was only starting with 12 cars. Well, this is because it’s a pilot. An RFP was developed, and Zipcar won the contract. Earlier this spring, I saw a recruitment announcement for an intern to help write an RFP to make carsharing-on-the-street a long-term endeavor, so I hope that is encouraging news.

  • Sam

    As a former active Flexcar member, using the cars in both downtown LA and in Pasadena 2-4 times per week, it is my opinion that the reason for the demise of Flexcar/Zipcar is related to two factors: 1) The Flexcar/Zipcar model was not profitable and therefore not a sustainable business, and 2) Flexcar/Zipcar was not understood or known of by enough LA residents to make it a profitable business.

    The idea of putting the Zipcars on-street, versus buried in garages during the Flexcar heyday, allows the company to be more visible. In San Francisco the car sharing vehicles are usually in surface parking lots near intersections, so everyone can see what they are, find out more, and perhaps become a user.

    I personally asked LADOT staff over a year ago if they were considering allocating on-street spaces for car sharing. I am happy to see this is finally panning out.

    Hopefully this is just the beginning. If more on-street spaces can be provided for car sharing services, more people will become aware of the service and more people may end up joining. Zipcar is trying to be a profitable and sustainable business, so they need to have a solid customer base.

    The next challenge will be debating with local residents and business owners about how many on-street spaces are too many for car sharing.

  • M

    When Flexcar was around, my work in Pasadena actually allowed a car to be parked in the parking garage to support the people that decided to not drive to work (we also had an allowance to use the car each month). I never used it though because I had already figured out how to get around where I work without a car. Where I did still use a car was at home in the evenings or the weekends, but there were no Flexcars where I lived in the San Fernando Valley! For me to travel back to Pasadena to my work or to downtown on the weekend, just so that I could pick up a car to do errands in the community where I lived was simply too time consuming when I could ask a friend for help or just go on my bike.

    While I understand some areas were more desirable for placing these cars (like college campuses), there were large geographical areas that were completely ignored both in the past and in the present with these flexcars.

  • I think car sharing is some greenwashing bs, especially since it’s new cars, new attractive cars that maybe you’ll want to buy.

    UCLA and USC are very easy places to get to and from public transit wise so why is zip car there? If zip car or these companies really want to promote something eco they would do it out in places where there is nonexistent or very little public transit options. That would be doing something. I think Zip Car in Lancaster or Riverside would be something ground breaking, putting it along Sunset is just away to get college students to spend more money that they don’t have.

    Putting a car share program in a place that already has awesome public transit (especially in regards to UCLA) is a step backwards.

    People who are into driving and have a car aren’t going to give up their car to use this the people who you are going to get to drive are people who don’t have cars, wouldn’t have thought of the car option and would have just bussed or biked it.

    My belief is this anything that has to be created new in order to be eco is simply greenwashing nonsense. Car sharing Mini Coopers? Completely nonsense. It’s just making driving sexy so what if you’re sharing it you’re still promoting and unsustainable lifestyle. And you’re doing it around college campuses one of the few middle class enclaves where it’s socially ok (sort of) to not have a car in LA.

    Yeah I know this an unpopular opinion, but I have alot of them.


  • Will Campbell

    Fred, My vilification of Zipcar comes from it being personal. Beyond understanding that it’s “just business,” I was a veeeeery early Flexcar adopter, a member since practically their beginning in 2004 — ever hopeful that it would grow and flourish.

    If you want to romanto-sympathize with what ZipCar did from a business perspective, feel free. I’ll romanticize Flexcar for what it attempted to be.

    But understand this: Zipcar’s pre-arrival rhetoric was about building on the good works begun by Flexcar and welcoming members like me into the Zipcar fold, which quickly proved a lie. So to the contrary of their posturing Zipcar really had no intention of bringing their far more substantial resources to bear in trying to grow what Flexcar had begun. I think from day one they were willing and readily able to pull the rug out from Flexcar members — and they did so with little advance notice and hardly anything more than a “We lied. Flexcar sucked. Get over it.”

    To play on your restaurant analogy that’s like the eatery’s new management triple-pinkyswear promising they’ll stay open and then one day you show up and the restaurant you know and love is gone and they’ve opened a new place serving shit sandwiches and crapacinos at the college across town.

    But it’s my bad for being unwilling to take a bite?

    As to what I would’ve done if I were Zipcar? At the very least I would have gotten the Flexcar member community’s input. I would have INCLUDED them, solicited their thoughts. I would’ve shared our options. Even if the end result would have been the same as it turned out to be, a dialogue would have left me with some semblance of a feeling that Zipcar had a respect and an interest in something more than the bottom line. I guess that’s OK to some, but not to me and never will be.

  • matt

    the fact that their business model is ‘tarded doesnt let them off the hook.

  • My favorite Chinese restaurant went out of business and closed down. I’m going to go on a blog and slam them without realizing that they closed down because I was the only person in their restaurant when I went there.

    Also, what’s good for your die-hard first adopter members isn’t necessarily what’s good for business or other more casual members.

    “the fact that their business model is ‘tarded doesnt let them off the hook.”

    What was retarded about their business model? They rented out cars and few showed up to rent them. The car sharing business model seems to work in some other cities, so I guess there’s something unique about Los Angeles that they have to figure out. Hopefully they’ll learn something from this pilot program.

    Personally, I have no use for car sharing but I wish them the best of luck.

  • Will, point taken. I wasn’t as early an adopter as you, I think I signed up for Flexcar in late 2005, early 2006. I was a big fan, but I just new it couldn’t last for the reasons I stated, so when Zipcar came in and wiped the fleet I was pissed on a personal level, but I was amazed they just didn’t bail the city entirely. I’ll confess, I’m still a Zipcar member and probably take advantage of their service every few months. I live in South Park in downtown, so I usually just hop on a bus or ride the bike to USC to grab one of their cars, usually the boxy Scion because typically I need to transport stuff. One thing I’ve noticed since they wiped there fleet and only have those 8 cars at USC, is that now you’re not guaranteed a vehicle will be there for you whenever you want it (with Flexcar I could usually get a reservation with 5 minutes notice), which may suck on the personal convenience level but does mean that at least the cars are getting used.

    Browne, car sharing isn’t just about being eco. I’m not an environmentalist and am not car-free for environmental reasons. Car-sharing to give those who don’t want to OWN a car access to a car when a car is necessary. It’s that simple. I’m a multi-modal type of guy who likes to use the best mode for the situation, most of the time for me it’s walking on my own two feet, then it’s the bus and train, sometimes it’s my bike, and every once in a while it’s a car. The need for a car is so rare that it’s more convenient and cost effective to be able to rent one for a few hours rather than own one. This is why car-sharing exists.

  • I can almost admire the narrow POV of people like Spokker who see things so either/or. Why is it they can’t understand that I can be disappointed in Flexcar’s slaughter while at the same time understanding all along of the company’s tenuous existence — especially because I was one of those few customers in the “restaurant,” not in spite of it.

    And why is it they don’t see the irony of being People Who Complain About People Who Complain? Or is that another type of business model that I should just STFU about and assimilate.

    Flexcar came to LA where Zipcar feared to tread — yes, perhaps wisely so. It was a bold mission Flexcar undertook and no shit: it ultimately didn’t flourish in such a car-sharing challenged landscape. There wasn’t a time in my membership that I didn’t expect Flexcar to go tires up.

    I can’t blame Zipcar for doing what it felt was best for its interests, but I can and will hold them accountable for the scorched earth methods they employed when they arrived.

  • “Or is that another type of business model that I should just STFU about and assimilate.”

    Yes, please.

  • Ian McIlvaine

    My wife and I hosted a Flexcar at our property in Venice when we learned that Flexcar was looking for a location in Venice. At the time, they said that they had members in the area who were looking for additional cars because the ones in Santa Monica were frequently booked. By the time Zipcar came along, there were 5 vehicles in the Santa Monica/Venice/Mar Vista transportationshed and they promptly decided that an area that had previously merited 5 vehicles, couldn’t even support one vehicle in their business model.

    Was Flexcar really so poorly run that they would go through the trouble to place a car in a community where there was no demand for it? Or is Zipcar just greedier and lazier (they get UCLA and USC to do most of the work)? The answer might be in the form of a new car share business being started up by a previous Flexcar employee, Melissa Hebert, ( feels that there is a market for a car sharing service that doesn’t have such onerous requirements as Zipcar. We will see how successful she is in getting up and running. Please contact her via the website if you were a Flexcar fan.

    Is car sharing for people who can’t afford a car? Maybe, but my wife and I live in Venice, work downstairs, live upstairs, walk to Whole Foods, bicycle to the post office and the bank, and did not need two cars, especially since the second car was driven only on a rare occasion when we were headed in two different directions at the same time. Having the Flexcar in our driveway allowed us to stop paying insurance, maintenance and registration on our second car, but still have access to a car just about any time we needed, as long as we planned a little bit in advance. We also started using the Flexcar for business travel since everything was recorded in great detail, making it very convenient for billing clients or handling tax deductions.

  • “Was Flexcar really so poorly run that they would go through the trouble to place a car in a community where there was no demand for it?”

    I don’t think it was that Flexcar was poorly run, on the contrary, I think they did a fantastic job running the business… but I don’t think the time was right. I think their model, which is probably what I would have done as well, was to try and saturate the markets with cars to get their name out and make it convenient for members and hopefully build a large membership base by providing such a good service. Unfortunately, despite the convenience and availability, I don’t think that large membership base every formulated.

    Ian, do you know anything else about LAX Carshare or is that website all for now?

  • Will Campbell

    Sorry Spokker. Ain’t gonna happen.

  • Nora

    @browne–have you ever tried to get to or from UCLA or USC by public transit after, say, 11:30pm? Or used public transit to drag home some furniture because you couldn’t afford the delivery charges? (Certainly can’t do THAT by bike-believe me, I would if I could.) Or, you know, try to leave the city for the weekend? I happen to think college students in LA who can’t afford to maintain a car full-time are *exactly* the right demographic for this service.

    You said it yourself–people with cars are not likely to give them up to use a car-sharing service. And people who live in the underseved-by-zipcar-and-public-transit areas would *have* to have cars already to get around, or they wouldn’t be able to live there. Just because there are more public transit options near UCLA and USC doesn’t mean those options are viable in all circumstances/conditions–having temporary access to a car only in those extreme circumstances when a bus or a bike won’t cut it sounds ideal to me–regardless of the ‘greenwashing’ marketing the company might be using. And if zipcar is able to expand and provide alternative transit options in underserved areas, so much the better.

  • Wad

    Matt wrote:

    the fact that their business model is ‘tarded doesnt let them off the hook.

    And Enterprise’s business model blows away Zipcar.

  • I will be curious to see if there is any neighborhood buy in.

  • browne–have you ever tried to get to or from UCLA or USC by public transit after, say, 11:30pm? Or used public transit to drag home some furniture because you couldn’t afford the delivery charges?–Nora

    Yeah Nora I have. It’s not that big of a deal, maybe to you it is, but it’s not some really hard thing. Have you ever left Long Beach at 11:30pm via the 60? That’s some insanity. The Zip Car needs to be places where public transit suck or is scary.

    I’ve never really been all that into furniture and I build most of my stuff (well me and my boyfriend) build most of stuff. We make it and transport the wood and material via the Metro. We get yelled at by the invisible man at Metro for it. We also are really good at finding used furniture around our house, you know keeping it local and things like the all of the trendy eco people do.

    You shouldn’t ask me questions like that. I keep it real my friend, but I understand what you are saying, but being sustainable isn’t always easy or convenient. You know how the world became the mess that it is, because someone didn’t want to wait two minutes for bus. Yeah faster can be better, but only in the short term.


  • Although I am no fan of Zipcar, I applaud the City of Los Angeles’ efforts to promote the usage of carsharing. As the City has been designated “the most congested”, carsharing is a viable and sustainable solution.

    As LAXCarshare prepares to launch in the coming months, we look forward to providing permanent residents with a service that was needed and greatly appreciated.

    As a former employee of Zipcar, I can firmly state that Los Angeles is a viable area to develeop, which validated the need to create a company of my own.

    I look forward to serving the residents who where left stranded as a direct result of the merger.

    Melissa Hebert

  • Although I am no fan of Zipcar, I applaud the City of Los Angeles’ efforts to promote the usage of carsharing. As the City has been designated “the most congested”, carsharing is a viable and sustainable solution.

    As LAXCarshare prepares to launch in the coming months, we look forward to providing permanent residents with a service that was needed and greatly appreciated.

    As a former employee of Flexcar, I can confidently state that Los Angeles is a viable area to develeop, which validated the need to create a company of my own.

    I look forward to serving the residents who where left stranded as a direct result of the merger.

    Melissa Hebert

  • I am pleased to share that LAXCarShare has launched and we look forward to serving the residents of the greater LA area.

    For more information, visit our website at



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