Consider Zipcar another piece of living a car-free lifestyle. While living without a car is difficult outside a larger city, it can be accomplished with the help and support of programs like Smart Trips, as we discussed yesterday. Zipcar is completely different, but complementary to that program. For people living in downtown Knoxville, public transportation and Zipcar combined can meet many travel needs. If not eliminating the need for a car completely, perhaps more people might be able to reduce from two cars to one car for a family or couple.
To find out more about the program, I met with the two current, local representatives, Chris Woudstra and Laura Coats. Each came to Knoxville with the idea it would be a temporary stop-over before moving on to greener pastures but, like so many others, found the city too appealing to readily leave. Chris, from the Detroit area and a Michigan State graduate in Environmental Studies spoke of the friendliness of the people in Knoxville. Laura, from a small town near the North Carolina coast, noted the appeal of having the mountains so close at hand.
The two work part-time for Smarttrips, a stint which comes after a time in Americor, which is what brought each of them to the city. They noted the environmental emphasis in Americor and Smart Trips would seem a logical next step. Each holds another part time job, but feels their time promoting Zip Car is important.
The basic premise of the program is that people who don’t own a car will sometimes need a car for a specific time and reason. Two cars remain parked on campus at UTK and two cars reside on the Gay Street viaduct for downtown use. Typically Zip Car requires an annual membership fee. Since its local inception in February of 2013, this annual fee has been waived for the first year for Knoxville residents, thanks to a grant from the Regional Transportation Planning Organization.
The drill is pretty simple: After registering online, each member receives a card which unlocks (by hovering over a certain spot) and allows the cars to start. Trips may be reserved via a smartphone app or online by logging into a member account. The app shows the cars near your location (each of them have human names, but you’ll find Honda and a Ford on the viaduct downtown), and the time slots for which they are available. You reserve your time slot and pick up the car when you are ready, returning it to its slot when you are finished.
The cost of the cars range from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour, which is very cheap when you consider that they provide the insurance and the gasoline for up to 180 miles of travel in a day. According to the most recent AAA estimates, the cost of owning and operating a car is close to $9,000. That’s a lot of Zipcar usage – and rental car usage, if you think about it. The costs include insurance, maintenance, tires, gasoline and so on. For someone living in the city, parking would have to be a factor, though the cost in Knoxville is a modest $37.50 a month for downtown residents to use a parking garage.
A quick look into the availability of the cars on the app reveals that the UT cars are used more heavily. It makes sense, in some respects, as college students might be less likely to own a car, more likely to be spontaneous and they are also easy targets for marketing the program. Downtown residents are a difficult marketing niche. Advertising at large downtown events doesn’t necessarily reach residents, as many of the participants would be from outside downtown. So, it appears we use it less than we might.
I’m one of the hard-to-reach downtown residents. I just signed up for Zipcar, and it took me about five minutes. If you go to the Knoxville Urban Guy FB page and sign up for Zipcar through the link I’ve posted there, you’ll get twenty-five dollars in free driving. So, let’s give it a try, shall we? As I’ve said, Urban Woman and I now own one car for the first time in thirty years and, while I’ve been a bit surprised at how little that’s really impacted us, it will be nice to have this back up waiting on the viaduct.