Emeryville Zipcar program taking off

May 5, 2008 10:16:46 AM PDT
With gas prices skyrocketing, one Bay Area city is offering an innovative program that could ensure you don't have to drive your car at all.

Emeryville now has five Zipcars, they are hybrids available to people who usually take public transportation but need a car here and there. The fact that the program is happening in Emeryville is even surprising to Zipcar employees.

Zipcar general manager Genevieve Jopanda has a list of cities where she would love to see her cars. She admits Emeryville wasn't exactly on her radar.

"To be honest, it probably was a little bit lower on my wish list of where I wanted to expand," said Jopanda.

But the city reached out to her, which is very unusual in her business.

"I was just like 'can you talk to the other cities in the Bay Area?'" said Jopanda.

She's always taking a bit of a risk when she brings her cars to a city. She doesn't know for sure if the idea of car sharing will be popular there, or if the cars will just sit. But in Emeryville, the city's Transportation Management Association was willing to share that risk. The TMA is an association of property owners and it is bearing half the cost to put the cars in Emeryville, which is basically unheard of in the car sharing world.

"As a business person and a mom, global warming is an important issue for all of our companies and for all of our cities to get a handle on," said Denise Pinkston, TMA board president.

So here's how it works, say you take BART and a bus to Emeryville, then catch the city's free shuttle to work, but you have a lunch meeting you need to get to - the city now has five Zipcars that are available for you to use for that quick meeting.

Chip Hackett has already taken advantage of them. He has used the cars for grocery trips and to go pick up some tickets he recently won from a radio station.

"They do seem fairly popular, occasionally when this one's in use, I can go two blocks to another one or three blocks this way to the one at the Amtrak station," said Hackett.

It costs him $8 an hour to use the car as a TMA member -- non members pay $9 dollars an hour.

Emeryville allows people to park the Zipcars on the streets, another unusual move for a city. The cars are also located at office buildings, like the Watergate office towers, making it incredibly convenient for the employees there.

The TMA board president said it did take some convincing to get businesses to back the idea.

"They were uncertain at first what the benefit would be. We had to talk to people and explain to them how really their employees would benefit, and now that we've started the program, it's been incredibly popular," said Pinkston.

But the businesses stand to gain here, too. The hope is if the companies invest this money now and help create a city designed around smart urban transit - they'll be able to build more commercial property and make more money later on down the road.

"You can't continue to grow your cities if the only transportation alternative is the single occupant vehicle," said Pinkston.

Zipcar usually expects a program like this to be self sufficient in about 12 to 18 months. The Emeryville program just launched, but its so popular, it will pay for itself in seven to 10 months.


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