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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Zipcars don't live here

As Cincinnati painstakingly works its way towards a more comprehensive transit network we must not forget that American cities are largely built around the automobile and sometimes having access to an automobile makes life easier. This does not mean that you must own and maintain a personal automobile though.

The option for those looking to live car-free or at least car-light is urban car sharing which has taken off in several American cities. In a nutshell urban car sharing compliments lifestyles that use public transit, walking and/or cycling as a primary means of transportation. In these cases the car sharing then acts as an option for trips otherwise not possible through the aforementioned means of transportation.

Out-of-town trips, special occasions (i.e. moving, joy ride, date), or trips to locations accessible only by automobiles are then made easily accessible for those not interesting in owning and maintaining a costly automobile. Users of car sharing programs like Zipcars have been found to reduce the number of automobiles per household and increase their usage of transit, bicycling and walking.

Programs such as these are often popular in high density urban locations well-served by public transit or near places with low car ownership rates like college campuses. In Midtown Atlanta alone there are 21 Zipcar locations that serve the high density urban community which is also home to the Georgia Institute of Technology and its 20,000 students. Comparatively, Uptown Cincinnati has zero Zipcar locations to serve its high density urban community and the University of Cincinnati's roughly 40,000 students.

If you look further to downtown Atlanta you can add in another seven Zipcar locations with two more in the Inman Park/Little Five Points area just a stones throw away. In downtown Cincinnati and historic Over-the-Rhine the trend continues with zero Zipcar locations serving a higher density urban community than its Atlanta counterpart.

In the rest of Atlanta another 14 Zipcar locations can be found bringing the total to 44 Zipcar locations in Metro Atlanta with one to two cars per location while Cincinnati has none. Meanwhile in Cincinnati car-free individuals struggle to make things work in a limited-bus and car only city with many more looking to have the option of living car-free or car-light.

The number of American cities that boast public transit systems comprehensive enough to allow for mainstream car-free lifestyles can be counted on one hand. As a result car sharing programs like Zipcars play an instrumental role in the process of creating a lesser demand for personal automobiles. And it seems to me like Cincinnati is a perfect urban region for such a program, and regional leaders in Cincinnati should examine establishing a local carsharing program as has been done in cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland.


Sean F. said...

The density is here in the urban core (though not outside of it), but one vital component is missing. Nearly every city that has had a successful carsharing program has had some sort of rail transit. Will we get there?

5chw4r7z said...

I would sell my car right now if someone opened a Zipcar franchise downtown. I just hate to let it go for that short trip I need to make once every other week or so.

Doctor Who said...

Cincinnati could benefit strongly from Zipcar or any other car-sharing service. So many parts of the city are inaccessible or inconvenient to reach via Metro and while Cincinnati has great roads for recreational cycling, it's a daunting proposition for casual riders who lack the fitness to get up some of the steeper grades without walking or arriving covered in sweat.

As it is, a car-less individual must make major compromises in Cincinnati to live that lifestyle. Zipcar would fix that -- Cincinnati is a market in dire need for it.

Randy Simes said...


It's true that most cities with successful car sharing programs also have rail transit. It is quite common for car sharing programs to function as a compliment to good public transit which is something not yet available in Cincinnati.

With that said, I would think a car sharing program could very well be successful in Cincinnati as long as it is planned carefully and at an appropriate scale. Seems like the perfect project for the regional chamber of commerce to spearhead.

George "Loki" Williams said...

I've lived car free since I was 14 years old. Seven months ago I relocated here to Cincy and have been flabbergasted by how hard it is to get around.

The public transit as it stands is bloody horrible, and the cab system is worse than in rural Mississippi.

I'd also like to point out that living car free in post Katrina New Oreans the past four years it was vastly easier to get around than it is here.

Streetcars, zip cars, and expanded options for cyclists are all things this city, my new home, desperately needs.


David said...

UC/Xaviers International populations could probably easily surpass the threshold for making zip-cars economically viable in our region. Local students may even be able to forgo cars for their first 1-2 years if zipcars were available.

Randy Simes said...

Dave Spatholt:

University populations are typically an easy starting point for carsharing programs. Zipcars did at one point have a program in Columbus, Ohio that was focused around Ohio State, but that has since been canceled.

In Cincinnati, I think you're right that the robust student populations of UC, XU, Cincinnati State, and NKU can make for a reliable starting point for a carsharing program locally.

Unknown said...

I think the rail transit issue that Sean F. brings up is definitely more than just a coincidence. Car sharing is most practical for the ocassional trip, not the routine. In the case of the downtown resident, they probably don't want to have to rent a car for their weekly grocery trip - it's more for the once a month trip to the 'burbs or an escape to nature. Not to mention, the vast majority of trips by downtown residents are going to be made during limited times (nights and weekends), leaving the car sitting idle the rest of the week.

To make it cost effective, you need to also have a large worker population that commuted via transit. They'll use the cars during the week to get to meetings, increasing the utilization rate. All the 'real' zipcar cities (those not just serving a university - I'm looking at you, Carlisle, PA) are in cities with rail and people who use it to commute.

Quimbob said...

"...and the cab system is worse than in rural Mississippi"

Randy Simes said...

An improved cab system would be great, but I would imagine that would take the creation of some regulatory board to oversee cab operators...something that I find very unlikely to happen any time soon.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

I'm guessing the reason zipcars are successful in areas with other forms of public transit is because the zipcar model is truly meant as a supplement.

With respect to that, I was suggesting earlier that the zipcars could easily be that sort of supplement to the Universities without need for the typical case of an underlying transit system.

I suppose I'm suggesting that while there seems to be a presence of zipcars in areas where there is good public transit, that we should by no means correlate them.

George "Loki" Williams said...

I second the review of the cab system up here, and being a New Orleanian I've been to rural Mississippi.

So far I've found them all uniformly

3)Whining about leaving the downtown area.
4)As often as not no idea of how to get to your destination.

As a cyclist I used to rely on cabs back home, cheaper than a car in the long run. Here I find my mobility drastically impaired by what passes for taxi service in CIncy.

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