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New transportation ethos overcoming city dwellers

4zipcarstoryNot interested in the humdrum appeal of driving the same car everyday, more city dwellers revel in the ability to be practical in a Honda Civic one day, conquer the road in a Ford Escape SUV the next and end the week sporting around in a Mini Cooper Convertible. How? Through car sharing. 
    
Gas price spikes and a shaky economy are driving more Americans in urban areas to forgo car ownership for car sharing, said the head of Zipcar.
    
Zipcar, the world’s largest provider of cars by the hour or day, saw it’s membership soar 50.3 percent in the past 12 months.
    
Scott Griffith, Zipcar’s chief executive, told Reuters that he’s seeing a significant change in people’s behavior when it comes to car use.
    
“In the past, about 40 percent of our membership base either sold a car or chose not to buy a car because of our service,” Griffith said. “More recently in the last 12 months that number has gone to over 60 percent.”
    
The economic downturn is adding to the popularity of car sharing as the credit crunch makes it more difficult to get car loans and some are forced to sell their car for the cash or to avoid defaulting on their payments. 

Griffith said Zipcar members are also looking to other modes of transportation.
    
He said people take 46 percent more public transit trips, 26 percent more walking trips and about 10 percent more bicycling trips after joining Zipcar.
    
“That significant increase in other ways of getting around town sort of combines with Zipcar to show an overall decrease in vehicle miles traveled,” Griffith said.
    
“They drive a lot less, more than 50 percent less in total miles annually,” he added.
    
Zipcar operates in the United States, Canada and London. A merger with Flexcar in 2007 made the company the largest car share company in the world.
    
But car rental company Hertz Inc plans to bring some competition as it opens Connect by Hertz, a car sharing unit available in London, Paris, New York and expanding to more locations in the United States.
    
photo_sm_zipcar_mini_1Zipcar maintains it sets itself apart from other car rental companies by offering “fun” cars like the Mini Cooper and convenient pickup locations and by trying to build a sense of community among its members, Griffith said.
    
“We want you to drive the car you would aspire to own. We want you to be proud of using car sharing,” he said.
    
Griffith said that 19 percent of car owners’ incomes go to transportation costs, while Zipcar could bring that figure down to 3 or 4 percent if they get rid of their car.
    
Griffith wants people to look at Zipcar as a replacement for car ownership.
    
People want the freedom to pick up and go whenever they like and car sharing offers them access to this freedom, he said, without needing to own a vehicle.

For more on Americans and their cars, click here.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar (Cars wait in a traffic jam on a New York City highway); Handout photo from Zipcar