Some 10,500 employees of the City of Seattle will now have access to a car at the office for personal errands or business trips, thanks to a new partnership with car-sharing provider Zipcar.

ZipcarPart of the city’s Commute Trip Reduction effort, the Zipcar partnership is aimed at "encouraging more climate-friendly commutes," says Mayor Greg Nickels (D), because employees will be able to walk, bike, or take mass transit to work without worrying whether they’ll need to, ahem, zip off to an appointment.

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Within a 10-block radius of City Hall, there are more than 60 Zipcars parked at curbs and in garages. City employees (and other Zipcar members) can reserve these vehicles and then take them out for several hours, or even a whole day, returning them to their original parking spot. Zipcar then takes care of all maintenance, insurance, and fuel for the vehicles.

And for naysayers who think this will just encourage people to drive around unnecessarily, a 2008 survey of Seattle Zipcar members suggests otherwise, with half of the respondents saying they’ve increased their public transit usage since joining. And national surveys indicate that 50 percent of members sell their car or avoid buying one in the first place, reducing vehicle miles by almost 40 percent.

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For those of you in Seattle, Zipcar is opening up a storefront-style office downtown (in the old Department of Licensing office, actually). They’re hosting an open house today, and if you stop by before 5 p.m., you can join Zipcar for no annual fee (a savings of $50).