How Zipcar Is Reducing Car Congestion On College Campuses

Today young adults are abandoning car ownership in droves–and that’s good for their communities and for the planet.

How Zipcar Is Reducing Car Congestion On College Campuses
[Photo: Flickr user Open Grid Scheduler]

“Car sharing” sounds like it should reduce the number of cars of the road, but until recently that claim was more conjecture than fact. Without hard data, we didn’t know what impact car sharing is having.


Now the data is starting to appear. Recently, we saw how the service car2Go was enabling people to sell their vehicles or suppress future purchases. And now comes a similar study regarding Zipcar.

Working with the latter company, Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, surveyed more than 10,000 students and college administrators about their attitudes to car-sharing. What she found was quite intriguing. More than 40% of respondents said they were less likely to buy a car in the next few years because of Zipcar. Moreover, 30% of students living on campus said they might have brought a car to campus had Zipcar not been available.

[Photo: Flickr user Jeff Easter]

The data raises the possibility that car-sharing could reduce traffic on campuses, some of which are currently overflowing with cars. The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, for instance, has 27,000 parking spaces–enough for about half of all its students and staff.

“We are starting to see that the effect [of car sharing] is quite substantial,” says Shaheen. “Forty percent is in line with what we’re seeing in other markets. It’s not unexpected.” The previous study found that each car2go vehicle takes between seven and 11 private cars off the road.

“It’s because the economics of car ownership,” Shaheen says. “Cars sit unused 95% of time and a lot of younger people see that, via their mobile device, they can access many forms of on-demand, shared mobility and save money as opposed to purchasing a fixed asset like a car.”

Zipcar, which subsidizes student membership through a partnership with Ford, operates at about 500 campuses in North America. The survey sheds light on regional trends around car-sharing. Zipcar led to the greatest reductions in private car ownership in Canada (6.7% purchase suppression rate) and the Midwest (5.3% among suburban and rural users). There was also a reduction in total vehicle miles travelled due to Zipcar by 1-5%, Shaheen says.


If these survey results are indicative of wider trends beyond college campuses, you could begin to see how cities could become unclogged over time. Here’s hoping.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.