When news got out a few weeks ago that car-rental company Avis had purchased the popular car-sharing service Zipcar, many reacted warily, wondering if the deal would kill Zipcar’s grassroots ethos. Others found such negativity overblown, calling the move not only unsurprising but smart, on both Avis’ and Zipcar’s parts. Whatever the future of Zipcar (and it’s hard to imagine Avis changing its model in any significant way), it’s undeniably helped us reimagine our relationship with cars – and maybe, at the same time, with our neighbors, too.
Over the 13 years since Zipcar’s founding, more of us have realized that the mobility we desire doesn’t require owning a car. In fact, for many of us city dwellers, especially young, single, and/or not-very-high-income ones, a car can be more of a burden than a convenience, once you factor in the price of gas and insurance and the hassle and expense of finding parking.
That doesn’t mean that we have no use for driving, however. Whether you’re car-free by choice or by circumstance, you’ve no doubt experienced the occasional surge of longing for a vehicle, when it’s pouring rain and the bus is late, or when you realize, walking home from the grocery store with several heavy bags, that you vastly overestimated your own strength and stamina. Zipcar (and its earlier peers, like Flexcar, with which it eventually merged) showed us that you don’t need to own a car to use one. Cars, like bikes and buses, can be just another element of a multi-modal transportation system -- a system that offers people a range of transit options and makes it easy to combine them.
“The U.S. has always been car-centric. I don’t see car-sharing itself changing that,” says Nick Cole, CEO of car2go North America, one of the latest companies to arrive on the sharing scene. “Not everybody’s going to be able to afford a car … but there’s going to be a need for this transportation.”
Zipcar saw that need and inspired a wave of other car-sharing operations to improve and build upon its model.