Car-Sharing Invades the Motor City

Monday, June 13, 2011 - 02:48 PM

WDET Detroit Public Radio
(shinya/flickr)

In the state that put the country on wheels, car ownership is as American as apple pie. But there are a growing number of people in Michigan who are giving up their vehicle titles and turning to Zipcar, one of the better known of a growing number of car-sharing services.

The premise of the service is quite straight forward. Members are given access to a fleet of cars and SUVs parked in strategic locations throughout a city that they can reserve online or over the phone. Customers pay an application fee, an annual fee of $50 and an hourly rate of about $8. Fuel and insurance are included.

Since the age of eligibility was lowered from 21 to 18 a few years ago, the service has taken off at the University of Michigan. “The student portion of the membership here really grew since then and the international students find this a very appealing alternative,” said Grant Winstonthe university’s associate director for Customer Service at Parking and Transportation Services. “A lot of them don’t bring cars here and they stay through graduate school, so it’s been very popular with the international community.”

In many ways, services like Zipcar are tailor-made for college towns like Ann Arbor, Winston said. University living already breeds a culture of sharing, so students are naturally open to the idea. Zipcar also cuts down on the number of vehicles on campus, where parking is at a premium. It’s no wonder then that the city of Ann Arbor jumped on the band-wagon as well.

GetDowntown, a non-profit transportation program, brought Zipcar to the wider community in 2009. Nancy Shore heads the effort. “It’s taking the hassle out of having a car,” Shore said. “For a lot of us, there is that image of that person massaging the car with a diaper in the driveway. But I think for a lot of young people, for people who have other things on their agenda during the day, they don’t want to spend all their time caring and feeding for a car. They want to use it when they need it.”

Converts are quick to point out that car-sharing is not for everybody. They admit it might be a tough sell for parents who balance work with a busy schedule filled with soccer games, music lessons and errands. And there’s something else to consider: having to reserve a car ahead of time makes it awfully hard to be spontaneous.

In Michigan, car-sharing services like Zipcar are currently only available in Ann Arbor and East Lansing, but this may be about to change. Wayne State University is looking at bringing car-sharing to its campus in the near future. Chances are it won’t be alone.

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