April 23, 2008 —
All major American cities offer some form of public transportation, but for many urban dwellers, the limited transportation infrastructure is just not enough. Whether it be ten block walks in the snow to the bus stop or the difficulty of transporting furniture or groceries home from the store, there have traditionally been very few cities where there is no practical advantage to having a car. But a new trend in transportation has many citizens rejecting automobile ownership in favor of car sharing services like Zipcar, and supplementing public transportation with bicycles.
Founded in 2000, Zipcar now boasts 180,000 members who pay a $50 annual membership fee for access to cars in more than 50 cities across the United States. For $11 an hour, members can pick up their cars from designated parking spots around the city and keep them for as long as they need—gas and insurance included. Since gas is included in the price, Zipcar has a major incentive to use as many fuel efficient vehicles as possible, with the majority of rentals coming from hybrids and other high gas mileage vehicles. Zipcar says that 40 percent of their customers choose to either sell their cars or forgo purchasing a new car.
But car sharing isn't the only revolution coming to American transportation, bike sharing programs are also popping up around the country. The first major municipal bike sharing system was recently unveiled in Washington. D.C. The district teamed up with Clear Channel—which manages the city's bus shelters—to create a high-tech bicycle sharing program. For $40 a year, residents can pick up the bikes—which are locked to bus shelters around the city—and borrow them for several hours at a time. Other cities like Portland are exploring similar projects, and bicycle sharing has already been a huge hit in Europe for years, where the first successful program was launched in France in 1974.