Sunday, April 09, 2006

Go Team! Universities Go for Carsharing

In the past few weeks, several major deals involving carsharing at universities have been announced:

• University of Maryland, College Park and Emory University near Atlanta, Georgia, have both signed deals with Flexcar according to recent news reports. (Other reports say that Flexcar will be opening up full-scale carsharing services in Atlanta in June.)
• The Student Senate at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., decided to sign up with Zipcar
• Several months ago, Zipcar amazed the carsharing world with a University of Minnesota deal, right in the backyard of non-profit HourCar.
• The University of California at Santa Barbara operates its own carsharing program for faculty and staff.
• New kid on the block CityWheels in Cleveland, Ohio, did its soft launch on the Oberlin College campus about 30 minutes from its main service area.
• Ithaca, NY and Bellingham, Wash., are both likely to be locations for home-grown carsharing services, and both have mentioned likely partnerships with the college campuses in their cities.

So why are colleges and universities so interested in carsharing? Even though carsharing hasn't been able to offer services to most undergraduates (see below), most campuses, especially those in urban locations, are bursting at the seams and building new parking is not nearly as desirable as a new engineering building or library. When there's money on the table or being proposed to build a new parking lot or garage, then there's money for alternatives which may allow building a smaller parking lot or garage.

To deal with the parking, most campuses have a parking and transportation office to implement programs to get both students and faculty to carpool, take the bus or bike to campus. Incentives usually include subsidized bus passes for those who don't have a parking permit and carsharing is often seen as a bonus for those not driving, giving them access to a car in case they need it. In addition, individual departments can use the carsharing for business trips rather than a fleet vehicle. Deals usually include subsidized membership and, in some cases, subsidized or even free usage. To date I'm not aware of any formal evaluations of the effectiveness of such programs.

Zipcar is arguably the first to clearly define a university carsharing "product" and now claims partnerships with way over 20 colleges and universities, mostly on the east coast. They even list universities on their home page (see link below). And Zipcar still has the unique distinction of offering its services to 18-20 year olds and older on the Wellesley College campus near Boston. In that situation the college itself handles the insurance for the younger drivers. In the US, the carsharing insurance providers have been reluctant to go below 21 years of age - apparently largely because they believe younger drivers may not have as much experience behind the wheel.

However, being able to serve undergraduate students, the "crown jewel" for carsharing on campuses, may be wide open soon. Reports about the University of Maryland deal quote Flexcar as being "95% certain" it will be able to provide service to 18-20 year olds, although they expect to require a $500 security deposit for members in this group.

The relationships between colleges and universities are varied. So if I've neglected to mention important benefits or unique partnership deals, please post a comment below. Thanks. If you'd like to see how Zipcar talks about universities, click on the LINK below. Be sure to download their nice PDF.