The environmental side of Zipcar’s expansion in Dallas.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly:

I’m on the fence with Zipcar. If you haven’t heard, Zipcar, “Wheels when you want them” is expanding to downtown Dallas. As an alternative to car ownership, Zipcar provides vehicles to monthly paying members, billable by the hour or day.

The Zipcar buzz is out and everyone is excited for the Zipcar expansion. My reservations come in the environmentally friendly marketing of these car-sharing services, so I decided to investigate. Zipcar has a great webpage on the green benefits of their car sharing service touting their green facts. I reached out to the company to acquire the studies and reports cited for their findings. After reading through the reports, I’m still on the fence but probably with one leg on the environmentally friendly side.

I don’t think the answer is black and white, it’s more grey. Grey in that, Zipcar provides an alternate transportation method that has less impact on the environment than our usual number one choice in Texas: gas guzzling oversized personal trucks. The Transit Cooperative Research Program study states, “car-sharing has the potential to change people’s relationship to the car in dense, urban communities.”

When the service is available in an area, households are choosing to go carless. In the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) study, a significant gain was seen in the number of carless households, an increase of nearly 30%. And overall net annual emissions of households joining car-sharing are lower than they were before they joined car-sharing.

Car sharing gives us another option, it’s part of a network of transportation. We are more likely to live without a car if we know we can utilize public transportation to get everywhere we need, and in the event we need a car, there is a quick option from companies like Zipcar. It’s tough to imagine easing our impact on the environment by trading a car for another car, just not owned by you. But it’s more than that. We are creating a city that gives you the opportunity to live without your car. Car sharing along with trains, buses, bikes, and your own two feet build a network of transportation that relies less on owning our own vehicles.

Zipcar offers a variety of vehicle models to satisfy their member needs. In the mix are hybrids and small fuel-efficient vehicles. In Dallas, there are a total of 25 cars offered at four locations currently. Of the six vehicles downtown, two are very fuel efficient Prius’.  Zipcar is building from the inside out. As time goes on they will watch where their members are coming from and add locations based on their data. So if you want Zipcar in your neighborhood, jump on the bandwagon and get your neighbors to as well.

Zipcars vehicles are also operating at their environmental prime. Many of the vehicles are less than a year old, monitored for cleanliness and maintained appropriately. When the vehicle is less than optimal it goes back into Avis’ system (Zipcar’s parent company) and becomes a rental or sold.

Along with driving fuel-efficient cars to reduce your carbon footprint, utilizing car-sharing forces errand batching. One of the simplest ways often cited to reduce your carbon footprint is to drive less and batch your errands. Access to a personal vehicle allows you the freedom to make multiple trips to stores and back home, not exactly good for the environment. But if you pay for your car use by the hour, the best use of your money would be to plan and batch your errands together, forcing less driving and lessening your carbon footprint.

“Despite rapid growth, however, car-sharing is still a niche product, accounting for just 0.03% of the US urban population and licensed driver” from MTI. Yet, Zipcar is growing nationwide and in Texas. Zipcar launched in Houston with 12 locations in March of this year. Less than six months later they have doubled their locations, adding their 23rd location this week.

I remain on the fence only because Zipcar can be environmentally friendly if more people give up a vehicle and utilize more public transportation. The service needs to be utilized for it to work. The more options we have for alternate transportation beyond our personal oversized trucks, the better it will be for our environment.

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