Carsharing with Zipcar

zipcar I first learned about Zipcar at the ALT.NET conference a couple weeks ago. I was talking with a developer from Toronto who told me a little about the company. I meant to look it up when I got back to Edmonton but of course, I forgot. Then when I was in Vancouver this past weekend, I noticed a bunch of advertisements for the service. I made a note in my Moleskine to look it up.

I think the concept of carsharing is fantastic:

Carsharing is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. The organization renting the cars may be a commercial business or the users may be organized as a democratically-controlled company, public agency, cooperative, ad hoc grouping. Today there are more than six hundred cities in the world where people can carshare.

Zipcar, founded in 1999, operates in nearly two dozen cities. Currently they are available in just two Canadian cities – Toronto and Vancouver. They claim to be the world’s largest carsharing operation.

In Vancouver, there are two plans. The “pay as you zip” plan costs $55 per year, and you can then rent from $9.75 per hour, gas and insurance included. The other plan is a monthly fee for people who use the service more frequently. The way it works is you become a member, then you can reserve a car online or on the phone.

I am not sure how well Zipcar would work in a city like Edmonton, but it makes total sense in a place like Vancouver. Sharon and I took public transit everywhere we went over the weekend, and it was always really efficient. Sometimes a car is quite handy though, such as when transporting something large or awkward. In those instances, Zipcar could be really useful.

Here’s a comparison with rental cars, and here’s a comparison with owning a car. You can definitely save a lot of money with Zipcar, but I think it would work best in cities with really well-developed public transit systems. That certainly seems to have been their strategy given the cities in which they currently operate.

ETS is constantly improving, so maybe we’ll have Zipcar or something like it here in Edmonton one day.

Edmontonians flock to transit in 2008?

100 Years of ETSI never thought I’d write a headline like that, but apparently it’s true. According to an article at CBC last week, Edmonton Transit is reporting that ridership rose by 8% in the first six months of 2008 compared with the same period last year. That’s roughly equivalent to an extra 2.5 million fares. ETS called the increase “astounding”, but seemed confused about the cause:

“Buses are packed, the LRT is packed, ridership continues to increase at an astounding rate,” said Ken Koropeski, director of service development for Edmonton Transit.

The increase is almost three times the growth being experienced by other transit systems across the country, Koropeski said, a trend for the city over the past few years.

The CBC article cites three potential reasons: high gas prices, the booming economy and related influx of newcomers to our city, and the U-Pass. I suspect #2 is the biggest cause, but that’s just my gut reaction. I wonder what impact the growth will have on security calls, which have already increased 20% over the last three years.

I also wonder why ETS didn’t share any of this information back in April? You might recall that Statistics Canada released information at the time that said nearly 80% of Edmontonians get to work in vehicle. Granted the StatsCan information came from the 2006 census, but it would have been a good opportunity for ETS to dispel some myths about stagnant (or least slowly growing) ridership.

I hope the growth continues. ETS turns 100 this year, and will celebrate Centennial Week from September 12th to 20th. You can learn more at the ETS website.

In Edmonton, we like to drive

Statistics Canada has released some new data from the last census that shouldn’t shock anyone who lives in Alberta’s capital city. Nearly 80% of us get to work in a vehicle:

The new data from the 2006 census found that 12.7 per cent of workers in the city of Edmonton get to work using public transit, while 79 per cent either drive or travel in a vehicle as a passenger.

Statistics Canada said the reliance on cars seems to increase with the age of the commuter. While those under the age of 25 travelled by vehicle 70.7 per cent of the time, that rate increased to 81.6 per cent for those aged 25 to 34. The rate was even higher for those aged over 35, at 87.2 per cent.

Cheap Gas?

The average Alberta commuter takes a car 84% of the time, so we’re slightly better than the rest of the province.

I guess Bob Boutilier, our city’s Transportation Department GM, wasn’t kidding at the ETS conference a few weeks ago when he said a big challenge is the “pickup truck and two car” mentality of most Albertans. Thanks to the census data, I now have a number to attach to that statement.

Some people like to suggest that we’ll never improve our public transit system until everyone experiences just how bad it is right now. Maybe there’s some truth to that after all. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the majority of that 80% have never been on a bus or LRT car.

That needs to change.